VJ Um Amal is, of course, no stranger to anybody on this site. However, her work is nonetheless full of interesting new directions. Her exploration of social media data and artistic representation thereof taps fascinatingly into the current cultural flow, exploring flows of digital information and utilizing such platforms to reasses and reconstruct meaning detached from patriarchal or westernized structures.
Under the Um Amal monicker, she explores the power and dynamics of media activism, how destructured spaces form discourse and provide a voice. As one article on her notes, “For the disenfranchised, outlets like Twitter can be a great equalizer, providing a voice to the voiceless.” Many data bodies can come together for political motion in a new collective space, that of cyberspace, which still remains under-explored in the new social dynamics and political movements it gives birth to. Cyber and social media space are political space, a space for people to communicate outside of typically structured environments, ideally creating their own organic and more utopian structures if allowed to flourish uncensored. Um Amal catalogues such political expression in these space and reconstructs it into art, such as the image featured above, cohering a vast mass of expression into a mass voice.
Indicative of such an approach to decentralizing structure of social media expression and attributing power to the people, it seems, is this article, by a colleague of VJ Um Amel/Laila Sakr, namechecking her as a source of some of this discussion. The article explores how terms like “Arab spring” and “Arab awakening” are politically loaded notions, suggesting that democracy is something new to the region and foreign to its people, and that this is a unique and independent moment in history. It’s not just a deconstruction of the meaning of words and the construction of history to signpost the political failures of westernized, “straightjacketed” language, however. This article is a call for reconstruction in new ways. As the title of the article suggests, it merely wants to call to “Please Reconsider the Term “Arab Spring”,” offering alternative terms that stem from the people involved to describe it on social media, such as “karama, thawra and haqooq (dignity, revolution and rights).” This illustrates a model for an approach to social media activism from a scholarly perspective, through a willingness to engage with the political digital bodies on their own terms rather than through preexisting structures from a western perspective.
As noted on this page, “her doctoral work maps the Arab revolutions through semantic analysis of social media feeds in Arabic, Persian, French, English, Spanish, German, and (soon) Urdhu.” In short, it is exploring history as it is told and recording a multitude of voices, examining how the modern age empowers them and how social media has become a powerful tool for politics, social justice, and collective empowerment. That becomes quite open ended in what it means on a broader scale, in positive and exciting ways. We’re all helping write this new field of academia with every little social media post and activist blurb, every reaction we share, every step we take toward a collective solidarity in the Internet. Perhaps instead of writing the language of the “Arab awakening” as though they’re learning democracy suddenly from us, we should listen and learn from them and explore the same possibilities in social media uprising.