In Place of War

People often speak ill of university administrators, but sometimes they are amazing people who got into running things because they want to make things better.  My own institution is a sprawling, eclectic, and chaotic juggernaut of 40,000 students – and over 10,000 staff. Some wonderful people have spent their lives trying to steer it.


Art Activist Heba Helmi photographed in Cario by Giulia Marchi (source:

So I wasn’t really surprised to discover that the Dean with whom I’d been corresponding about an outreach project with local schools turns out to be running quite an amazing project himself.

James Thompson’s  In Place of War project aims to support and learn from artists, filmmakers,and musicians around the world who live in war zones and try to use their art to bring peace or simply make sense of what is happening. The artists James works with range from Amal Ramsis, whose 2011 documentary film ‘Mamnou‘ (‘Forbidden’) explores the issue of censorship, to Ramy Essam, the musician whose 2011 song ‘Irhal!(‘Leave!’), addressed to then President Mubarak, captured the feeling in Tahrir Square, and Heba Helmi, whose recently published book Gowaya Chahid  (‘The martyr inside me’) documents the graffiti art of Cairo in 2011.

Luke Bainbridge has recently written an article about James’ project: ‘In Place of War: Egypt’s artists after the Arab Spring‘, for the Observer. He asked James about the role of Egpytian artists in the larger project – understandably, Egypt has become a major focus – and received the following reply:

During the Arab spring, and in Egypt in particular, there was this incredible meeting of great unrest with social media and art … suddenly artists have huge new audiences and people are communicating and sharing work in different ways. Egypt is really inspiring for people all around the world, but is also scary because it could still go very wrong.

It seems fair to say that if things go well for Egpyt – and really this is true for most places – it will be in part because courageous and gifted people like the In Place of War artists are showing that art can make a difference.


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