Three street artists took a stab at the American TV-series Homeland when they were hired to paint ‘Arab graffiti’ on a film set for the show. Instead, they ‘bombed’ the show, writing slogans dissing the award-winning series. Nobody noticed and the episode was aired with the graffiti in full view.
Homeland is about a female CIA officer with bipolar disorder who is sent to hunt down terrorists across the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. The show is currently in its fifth season, which is set in Berlin. It has received several prestigious awards and is watched by millions of viewers every week.
However, the series has been widely criticized for being bigoted, Islamophobic and portraying a racist image of Arabs, Afghans and Pakistanis. The Washington Post described the series as ‘a blonde, white Red Riding Hood lost in a forest of faceless Muslim wolves’.
“In June of this year we received a phone call from a friend who had been contacted by Homeland’s set production company”, Don Karl, a German publisher and graffiti artist tells Egyptian Streets. “They asked if he could help find ‘Arabian street artists’ to give ‘authenticity’ to a film set of a Syrian refugee camp on the Lebanese/Syrian border for their new season.”
“We weren’t too excited at first, because we don’t like how the show portrays people and life in general in the Middle East. But then we realised it would be a great opportunity to express our feelings about the show and we accepted the job.”
Karl and his colleagues Egyptian researcher/visual artist Heba Amin and Egypt-German artist Caram Kapp spent two days on the set. They spray-painted slogans such as ‘Freedom, now in 3D!’, ‘This show does not represent the views of the artists’, ‘Homeland is a joke, and it didn’t make us laugh’, ‘Homeland is racist’ and ‘Homeland is watermelon’, with watermelon being a common way to say in Arabic that something is a sham or not to be taken seriously.
“Set designers were too frantic to pay any attention to us; they were busy constructing a hyper-realistic set that addressed everything from the plastic laundry pins to the frayed edges of outdoor plastic curtains’, Amin writes on her website.
“It looked very Middle Eastern and the summer sun and heat helped heighten that illusion. The content of what was written on the walls, however, was of no concern. In their eyes, Arabic script is merely a supplementary visual that completes the horror-fantasy of the Middle East, a poster image dehumanizing an entire region to human-less figures in black burkas and moreover, this season, to refugees.”
“In our initial meeting, we were given a set of images of pro-Assad graffiti – apparently natural in a Syrian refugee camp. Our instructions were: the graffiti has to be a-political and you cannot copy the images because of copyright infringement. Writing ‘Mohamed is the greatest, is okay of course,'” Amin continues.
The episode with the artists’ work was aired on October 11th. Karl says he was not all that surprised that no one on set or in post-production had noticed their critical graffiti.
“They just don’t care. In another episode they had Hebrew price tags on clothes in a market in an Arab country. They had shot the scene in a fake souq in Tel Aviv.”