The Revolution is Womxn

The Revolution is Womxn

Shirine Saad

Cosmologies of lust, rage, and resistance in feminist Arab art.

A dark gallery space with colorful images including people's faces projected onto the walls and purple text reading "Inside Us" in English and Arabic.

Installation view of Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme's May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth (2020–ongoing), on view in the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Studio at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, from April 23 through June 26, 2022.

Photo credit to Jonathan Muzikar.


On a dark alley past overflowing garbage bins in Beirut’s Jisr el Wati district, where the putrid fumes from the nearby trash center have become as familiar as the traffic clogs and tireless honking, the sound artist Liliane Chlela presented her latest multimedia album, SAFALA, at the Beirut Art Center’s intimate projection space. Thundering beats blasted as motion animations in red and purple tones flashed on the screen. This cacophonous soundscape felt uncannily familiar, bringing back trauma in successive waves–the explosion that razed the Beirut port and collapsed buildings and shattered glass, war planes, bombs, guns. Hard Techno. Flashbacks. Our collective nightmare emerged, pregnant with anguish, rage, terror, horror. SAFALA–depravity, lowness, immorality. The evil eye at work. Our fate at the hands of the criminal militarized patriarchy that continuously turns our lives–memories, futures–into ruins.

In The Arab Apocalypse, written in 1980 in the midst of the civil war’s bloodbath (There have been mountains of corpses and rivers of blood), Etel Adnan, the shaman, the poet, the philosopher, the painter, envisioned the chaos that would engulf our nation like a curse.

A yellow sun a mad sun a quiet sun a red sun a a

Helios sun moon reduced to a sun between two rocks BOUM BOUM BOUME!

The poems sketched a cosmology of savagery, a total destruction of form and meaning, striking a fire that blazes through histories and nations. Rhythmed with noise, gunshots, rockets, lightning–the sounds of war. Assaulted with visceral scenes of death and destruction–yellow shells over the mourning of disemboweled houses.

Generating a language of Queer feminist resistance means rebirth in the craters of the apocalypse. The cacophony of despair gives voice to battered bodies and spirits gone mad. Our bodily fluids spill over. Form is blown up. This is the song of the #Lebanonprotests, the one that claimed:

 الثورة امرأة/The revolution is womxn


Our Bodies are Ours

Dissonance is disruption and distortion.


Large abstract sculptures in a gallery space placed on a concrete pedestal covered with a steel mesh.

View of exhibition Jumana Manna: Break, Take, Erase, Tally on view at MoMA PS1 from September 2022 to April 17, 2023. Image courtesy MoMA PS1.

Photo credit to Steven Paneccasio.

Jumana Manna’s sculptures feel like shapeless corpses, bunkers, shells, and detritus washed away on some wasteland. The curves of the ceramic industrial blocks sit on metal wire, elevated on the concrete blocks used as shields during wartime shooting sprees. Rotten food remains are laid out on crumpled, soiled newspapers, evoking the hunger that has become a daily condition for many in Lebanon and Palestine–as lands are seized, agricultural means decimated, and bank accounts disappeared. The ghastly shapes remind me of Simone Fattal’s archaeologies of disaster, of her mutilated bodies sculpted into clay, in dialogue with the Epic of Gilgamesh. Of Mona Hatoum’s Corps Etranger where she inserted a microcamera in her stomach, and the muffled thumping of the heartbeat. Of her necropolitical maps and empty shrines. As cities collapse, artists like Manna and Vivien Sansour move back to the land, close to the sun, sea, and mountains, listening to the earth and its native people and plants, revealing her truths.

Closeup of sculpture showing stale and fragmented bread strewn across Arabic text newspapers.

View of exhibition Jumana Manna: Break, Take, Erase, Tally on view at MoMA PS1 from September 2022 to April 17, 2023. Image courtesy MoMA PS1.

Photo credit to Steven Paneccasio.


Echoes of feminist resistance ricochet through history and the land since the rise of the first civilizations. We are cosmically connected. The arch of radical solidarity is vast and deep. Solidarity is love in motion. Today, our Iranian sisters chant WOMAN LIFE FREEDOM. In ca 3400-2000 BC, Endehuanna (In Sumerian, ‘The Ornament of Heaven’), the ancient Mesopotamian high priestess, asserted her power over rivals centuries before Homer, Sappho, and Aristotle, in poems written in cuneiform. “The Exaltation of Inanna,” where the goddesses of love and war Ishtar and Innanna are celebrated for their fierce resistance.

Be it known that you are lofty as the heavens! Be it known that you are broad as the earth! Be it known that you destroy the rebel lands! Be it known that you roar at the foreign lands! Be it known that you crush heads! Be it known that you devour corpses like a dog! Be it known that your gaze is terrible! Be it known that you lift your terrible gaze! Be it known that you have flashing eyes! Be it known that you are unshakeable and unyielding! Be it known that you always stand triumphant!

Poetry is solidarity in movement and action. Speaking the unnamable, the indecent, the disappeared into the light. Poetry is radical resistance.

A Love Supreme.


Resistance and desire as liberation song: feminist work flows from the body and its rhythms. In 11th Century Ganjeh, Azerbaijan the free-spirited Sufi poet Mahsati (‘Lady like the moon’) Sanjavi helped revolutionize the poetic ruba’i form, elegizing love, lust, and ecstasy, denouncing fanaticism, corruption and hypocrisy.

Drunkenly, your Turkish eyes are…waking


From wine in wine-lovers, delirium is coming


As you rise, allow your hair in the air to dance…

From your sitting, a hundred riots are starting


The Palestinian-American poet and author Hala Alyan threads worlds of dirty thoughts, dangerous excess, violence, where desire and dreams are blurred, reality and nightmares confused in one intoxicated breath (Alyan 2019).

A woman takes her sorrow to the river and drowns it, pale feathers and all. A woman explodes herself.

She is a wandering troubadour, driven by sex and longing, melancholic for lost homelands.

Nashville. Vinalhaven where cicadas warbled back and I folded my legs around you. And the girls are getting sick. The tide doesn’t mean to heed the moon.

Desire is haram. Not fit for a pure woman. Cannot be repressed. It rises like the waves, vast, limitless and powerful. 


A dark gallery space with bright images projected onto screens along with purple colored text reading "we are in the negative" in English and Arabic superimposed over the images.

Installation view of Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme's May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth (2020–ongoing), on view in the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Studio at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, from April 23 through June 26, 2022.

Photo credit to Jonathan Muzikar.

Madness as comfort and as released from the (dis)order of heteropatriarchy and its lies. Dis-ease. In between. Not making sense. Not fitting in. Danger. Escaping surveillance. Refusal. Ruanne Abou Rahme and Basel Abbas’s May Amnesia Never Kiss us on the Mouth: Only Sounds that Tremble Through Us begins with sirens and glitchy drones interspersed with echoes of percussion. Words–incantations, orders–are juxtaposed onto infrared films evoking security cams–lethal apparatuses tracing the movements of bodies singing and dancing throughout Palestinian land, including rapper Makimakkuk and dancer Rima Baransi. This reclaiming of land and overcoming erasure in motion is captured in a dreamlike, surreal stream of consciousness with the camera traveling neurotically, and chants and glitches mingling aimlessly. The title of the installation is derived from Roberto Bolaño’s Infrarealist Manifesto, where he wrote, “Chirico says: thought needs to move away from everything called logic and common sense, to move away from all human obstacles in such a way that things take on a new look, as though illuminated by a constellation appearing for the first time. The infrarealists say: We’re going to stick our noses into all human obstacles, in such a way that things begin to move inside of us, a hallucinatory vision of mankind.

— The Constellation of the Beautiful Bird.

— The infrarealists propose Indianism to the world: a crazy, timid Indian.”

A living archive of delirium: an obsessive refusal of erasure. Chants of freedom.


Trance, trans, transgressing, transitioning, translocating, translating, transversion, the act of shattering form, coming back to life, screaming ‘I’m here,’ holding secrets, shameless lust, existing as protest, pushing back against impending loss. Love as love.

The poet Andrea Abi-Karam talks back in a letter, “TO THE COP WHO READ MY TEXT MESSAGES”:


I HAVE TOOLS TOO.(Abi-Karam 2021)

7 * RAGE

Screaming, ravaging, marching, loud, failure, ugly, cycles, disgusting! To be a killjoy ‘can also mean being understood as someone who kills life because there is such an intimacy between the life principle and the happiness principle,’ as Sara Ahmed writes (Ahmed 2017). No longer repressing anger, a feminist Arab aesthetic subverts the weapons of power to turn it against itself, breaking it open, infiltrating and spilling out of the cracks, dancing, banging, chanting and loving hard, longing for pleasure and liberation, experimenting together inside and outside of the institution. Careless, carefree, freedom as infiltration of capital. The only issue, the only way out of the spell cast onto our bodies since the rise of a so-called civilization that wants us dead.

Rebel music.


Abi-Karam, Andrea, and Kay Gabriel. 2021. “TO THE COP WHO READ MY TEXT MESSAGES.” Essay. In We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics. New York: Nightboat books.

Ahmed, Sara. 2017. “A Killjoy Manifesto.” Living a Feminist Life, 251–68.

Alyan, Hala. 2019. The Twenty-Ninth Year: Poems. New York City: Ecco Press.

Shirine Saad is a Beirut-born writer, programmer and DJ exploring feminism and decolonization through the arts. She is a PhD candidate in Philosophy, Art and Social Thought at the European Graduate School. She runs the Gyal Tings! DJ learning series for BIPOC women and LGBTQ folks and Hiya Live Sessions, a platform amplifying radical feminist SWANA artists.

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