Louis, Dima: Activist art in contemporary digitally-mediated social movements: The case of the Lebanese 2019 revolution

Millions are taking to the streets every day, all over the world, to demonstrate against injustice, oppression, inequality, corruption, or poverty. More than ever before, artists are becoming active and influential members of such movements (Reed, 2005). Their influence is further enhanced by the different social media platforms that play an increasingly important role in contemporary social movements (Gerbaudo, 2012; Milan, 2015). Our study is two-fold. First, we examine the different forms and functions of visual arts in the October 2019 Lebanese revolution. Then we analyze the enabling role that social media played. When it comes to the forms, we note that new art mediums such as digital Instagram filters, gifs and animations complement more traditional art forms usually found in social movements such as graffiti, murals or sculptors. The revolution art content included depictions of corrupt politicians, representations of the people’s emotions ranging from anger and despair to hope and resistant, themes related to the Lebanese identity, and illustrations of slogans used in the revolution such as “Our weapon is our words,” “Revolution is a woman” and “Thawra has no religion.” Three key functions were identified in our analysis from the artists’ perspective: (i) documenting the protests and capturing key moments and events of the movement; (ii) expressing what people think and feel and empowering them to continue the struggle; (iii) reclaiming the city and its landmarks. As far as the role of social media is concerned, we identified four different enabling functions: (1) social media platforms represent a new creation space for artists adding a digital space to the traditional physical space, which is the streets; (2) social media platforms act as a disseminator of art, allowing a space expansion where art in the street becomes accessible through people’s screens; (3) social media platforms allow the appropriation of the art pieces and what they represent by the wider community through likes, shares, and retweets; (4) social media platforms amplify the traditional functions or art in social movements. To conclude, we argue that the new forms of art activism emerging in the digital media era, paralleled by the continuing importance of street-level art activism, contribute to the collective identity construction in digitally-mediated social movements.