Since the beginning of the new millennium, leakers and whistle-blowers have been hailed as heroes in prompting the redress of democratic governance gone wayward. The emergence of WikiLeaks has initially reinforced the necessity to correct the role of mainstream journalists and media as the ‘fourth estate’, or as the critical watchdog holding regimes (elected or autocratic) and big business in check and keeping them from abusing power, manipulating citizens and/or consumers, and maintaining the order that best suits their interests. Social media networks as well as digital media sites have multiplied the arenas in which leaks and scandals become manifest, bearing the promise of radical transparency. In over two decades, this genre of journalism has thrived across the ideological spectrum from the extreme right to the radical left, and has transformed perceptions of the media as well as the way in which publics construct world-views and seek, find, and interpret news.
Nowadays, scandalizing, leaking, revealing, and unveiling are used almost exclusively to produce affect, to mobilize a constituency in the denunciation of traitors, in the claiming of moral high ground, in the cancellation of an ‘other’, all in the time-space of a mousepad click. Surging like meteoric flashes, scandals dissipate as soon as they have erupted, leaving a trail that coalesces as undecipherable toxic residue in a repository of affects that cannot form the soil for a lucid, concrete, or elaborate political subjectivity. A string of leaks, scandals, and hacks cannot be the basis for resistance against the contemporary currency of fascism (racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny), the insatiable plunder of living resources, and the extreme accumulation of wealth.
‘Cultures of Scandal’ is inspired by transformations in digital culture as well as by highly polarizing crises around cultural events that surged as disruptive manifestations in the past few years in Europe and in the Arab region. What do the strategies of denouncement and mobilization aim to produce or destroy? What are they manifestations of? How do these campaigns impact practitioners and institutions, and what can they generate? Participants will reflect on practices of shaming and exposure from the 19th century to the present, examining how these practices contribute to our understanding of the canon, the archive, cultural development, and history. Engaging with contemporary examples centered around Arab politics and culture both in the region and in the diaspora, participants will also address the meaning of scandal in the context of art practices and institutional responses.
Welcome and General Introduction (Livestream available)
Rima Mismar (AFAC)
Georges Khalil (EUME)
Rasha Salti and Tarek El-Ariss (Curators)
15:30–17:30 Panel Discussion (Livestream available)
Affective States/Archival Records
Rana Issa and Christian Junge will explore reading practices, communities of readers, and their relationship to scandal. Stefan Tarnowski will reflect on narrativity, cinematic capture, and the experience of time confronting indifference.
Rana Issa, Carnal Feasting and Literary Scandal: How Ahmad al-Shidyaq Theorized the Literary
Christian Junge, Striving for Affect: Amateur Readers and Aswany’s Bestsellers on Social Media
Stefan Tarnowski, The Cunning Present: Yarmouk and the Times of Generation, Siege, and SARD
Moderated by Friederike Pannewick
17:30–18:00 Coffee break
18:00–20:00 Film Screening
Little Palestine: Diary of a Siege
(Lebanon/France/Qatar, 89 minutes, 2021)
Followed by Q&A with dir. Abdallah Al-Khatib
The district of Yarmouk, at the outskirts of Damascus, sheltered the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the world from 1957 to 2018. The regime of Bashar Al-Assad perceived the camp as a hideout for rebels, so the Syrian army held a siege from 2013 until the camp surrendered a few years later. Gradually deprived of food, medicine, and electricity, Yarmouk was cut off from the rest of the world. Abdallah Al-Khatib was born in Yarmouk and lived there until his expulsion by Daesh in 2015. Between 2011 and 2015, he and his friends documented the daily life of the besieged inhabitants. Hundreds of lives were irrevocably transformed by war and siege — from Abdallah’s mother, who became a nurse taking care of the elderly at the camp, to the fiercest activists, whose passion for Palestine was gradually undermined by hunger.
15:00–16:00 Book Discussion
Leaks, Hacks, and Scandal: Arabic Culture in the Digital Age
Layal Ftouni and Tarek El-Ariss
Leaks, Hacks, and Scandals maps the changing landscape of Arabic culture in the digital age by offering conceptual frameworks for new modes of writing and circulation, and practices of exposure and dissent.
16:15–18:15 Panel Discussion
Mobilizing Shame: Outrage, Resistance, Virality
While Heather Jaber and Lina Attalah will reflect on notions of whistleblowing, mobilizing shame and outrage in digital realms and journalism, in both the European and Arab contexts, Hanan Toukan will examine why and when certain artworks become ‘scandalous’.
Heather Jaber, Digital bahdala as a Didactic Performance of Belonging in Lebanon
Hanan Toukan, The Scandal That Never Was: The Palestinian Key of Return and German Imaginaries of Sovereignty
Lina Attalah, What Knowing: On the Divulgent Function of Media Today
Moderated by Georges Khalil
18:15–18:45 Coffee break
18:45–19:15 Film Screening
I Signed the Petition, dir. Mahdi Fleifel (2018, 10 minutes, Color/B&W)
Introduction by Rasha Salti
Immediately after a Palestinian man signs an online petition, he is thrown into a panic-inducing spiral of self-doubt. The short film exposes anxiety about online activism in a fraught political environment.
19:30–20:30 Keynote Lecture
Kader Attia: The Deep State of Iconocide
Investigating the processes by which images lapse from the field of visibility, Attia reflects on hypervisibility as a strategy of blinding and erasing. Drawing on Algerian psychoanalyst Karima Lazali’s work around erasure, Attia will explore further how the Deep State (effectively the imperial machine) is able to perversely mobilize bureaucrats as well as citizens in erasing visual traces of crimes it has committed.
Arab Fund for Arts and Culture – AFAC
In collaboration with the ICI Berlin and in partnership with EUME/Forum Transregionale Studien
Curated by Tarek El-Ariss and Rasha Salti