Between the Readable and Unreadable: Crossing Borders through Graffiti Scrawls

By Zeinab McHeimech
Submitted to Session P4604 (Walls, Borders and Boundaries: Displacement and Confinement in the MENA region, 2016 Annual Meeting
North America;
Comparative; Cultural Studies; Diaspora/Refugee Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
“الوطن عنصري” is scrawled across a wall of a fictional Syrian refugee camp in an episode of the American television series, Homeland. Unbeknownst to the production company and actors, the artists tasked with “replicating” the graffiti found on the Syrian-Lebanese border, marked the walls with subversive inscriptions instead. Walls, in this instance, become open spaces for transgression and resistance. Indeed, graffiti as an alternative form of communication has long been used to express political dissent. This paper considers the circulation of images of the Arab refugee through a comparative reading of fictional graffiti on the walls of a Syrian refugee camp in Homeland and of real graffiti found in the camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon. By attending to the materiality of the inscriptions left behind by Palestinian refugees, this paper addresses how aesthetic contemplation is inextricable from political contemplation. The paper also traces the various ways that the “real” aesthetics of Arab refugees disrupts the image of the Arab refugee that circulates in the realm of North American culture.