In July 2015 “The Arabian Street Artists” engineered a graffiti media hack by incorporating subversive graffiti on the set of the popular US TV series ‘Homeland’. Three months later episode 2 of season 5 was broadcast with the show unknowingly critiquing itself. After the story broke it went viral and was reported by media all over the world.
Heba Amin, Caram Kapp and Don Karl collectively adopted the ironic name “The Arabian Street Artists” from email communication between them and the ‘Homeland’ crew. Their filmic commentary ‘Homeland is Not a Series’, produced by Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) at Field of Vision, explores dialogues following the worldwide resonance of the critique that motivated the hack.
Read more about their film in this interview with The Intercept:
“Interview with Heba Yehia Amin, Caram Kapp, and Don Karl of ‘Homeland is not a Series’”, Eric Hynes
By Heba Amin, Caram Kapp and Don Stone (“The Arabian Street Artists”)
Editor’s note: Heba Amin is an Egyptian visual artist and researcher who is currently visiting assistant professor in visual arts at the American University in Cairo. Caram Kapp is a graphic designer and cultural producer based in Berlin. Don Karl, aka “Stone,” is a graffiti artist, author and publisher who has been writing graffiti since 1983. The views expressed are their own.
Since recently publishing our statement on how we included subversive graffiti on the set of the popular U.S. TV show “Homeland,”
http://www.hebaamin.com/arabian-street-artists-bomb-homeland-why-we-hacked-an-award-winning-series/ we have been overwhelmed by interview requests and an outpouring of support from individuals all over the world. Clearly something has struck a chord, and not just in the Middle East and South Asia. With great interest in how we managed to pull off a heist on one of America’s most popular TV shows, people seem to have responded to the irony of a show unknowingly critiquing itself. We used one of the oldest and most effective subversive tools at the disposal of anyone: “laughtivism”. And it works.
A “sophisticated” show like Homeland plays a role in laying the groundwork for stereotyping. It frames current political issues with egregious mistakes by sloppily mixing fact with fiction in ways that rewrite contemporary narratives. It doesn’t matter if viewers know the show is fiction. While ‘Homeland’ does not singlehandedly alter the perception of the Middle East and South Asia, it fits within the context of an entire entertainment industry that does. What makes ‘Homeland’ dangerous is that it purports to be critical by questioning the motives of American foreign policy, while at the same time perverting the image of other cultures to one perpetuated by the military-industrial complex.
Ultimately, ‘Homeland’ is not the only issue at hand; the virality is not about our graffiti. Rather, the show is a medium that highlights a broader issue in need of discussion. In Marina Hyde’s recent article in the Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/16/homeland-racist-arabic-grafitti-artists-protest, she quotes the spokesman for the American Translator’s Association: “It’s easier to train someone to fly an F14 than it is to speak Arabic”. In the same article, she states that out of 7,600 Foreign Service Officers serving in 2011, only 380 spoke Arabic and at a level not allowing for fluent navigation of the intricacies of diplomacy in a complex region.
Our ability to achieve what we did could not have accentuated our point more beautifully. The fact that ‘Homeland’ does not have a single regional or language consultant as part of their team speaks volumes about how serious ‘Homeland’ producers are about “striving to be subversive” and presenting ‘Homeland’ as “a stimulus for conversation” (as stated by ‘Homeland’s’ showrunner Alex Gansa in response to our graffiti), http://deadline.com/2015/10/homeland-is-racist-graffiti-street-artists-showtime-alex-gansa-1201583166/. Subversion takes research.
If we have succeeded in anything, it is that through a collective humorous moment we managed to give new impetus to a dialogue on imbalances in media representation. Articles such as Rachel Shabi’s on the perception that Muslim women need saving https://www.the-pool.com/arts-culture/tv/2015/42/homeland-is-racist-and-it-has-a-problem-with-women, Michael Karam’s article on entertainment’s impact on the Lebanese tourism industry http://www.thenational.ae/business/the-life/homelands-portrayal-of-lebanon-is-damagingly-misleading and James Poniewozik’s article on Orientalism and culture as “set decoration” http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/10/15/homeland-graffiti-racist/?mwrsm=Facebook&_r=1 have been published. More importantly, a large number of private exchanges on the topic have been initiated. The message is clear: fiction is not harmless. Repeated enough, it becomes accepted as fact. If it is unclear why ‘Homeland’ was critiqued in the first place then there is more reason to have this conversation.
We never could have imagined that this would have played out as it did, that it would resonate on such an incredibly wide scale. It verifies our instinct to take action. Many, including us, are standing up to reclaim our image. One of the more absurd phrases from our intervention – الوطن بطيخ- has instigated the popular #homelandiswatermelon. “Watermelon”, a vernacular term for ‘nonsense’, has caused both curiosity and amusement, proving that laughter as a tactic of resistance brings people together.
The Arabian Street Artists //
Heba Amin @hebaamin
Caram Kapp @dot_seekay
Don Karl a.k.a Stone @Donrok
Our original statement: “Arabian Street Artists” Bomb Homeland: Why We Hacked An Award-Winning Series
Worldwide press coverage: here