Art and war: The struggle of recollection and oblivion

When art sails in a culture where everything is linked, and you cannot realize borders between religion, art and politics

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

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It seems Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo could not restrain his anger at the end of his concert in Dubai as he screamed to the audience: “We meet at home. We don’t want art to be in exile.” A few weeks prior, he held a concert at Souk Okaz in Saudi Arabia. Later, there was talk about postponing two of his concerts due to the hajj season.

When art sails in a culture where everything is linked, and you cannot realize borders between religion, art and politics, art becomes the victim. The Saudi art movement has been suffering from a worrisome deterioration since the start of 2010, due to politics. Many art shows have been postponed due to developments and unrest in other regional countries. Now, some are linking our big battle against rebels in Yemen and art festivals. However, we can celebrate with art and immortalize the glories of the heroes stationed at the frontlines.

Art leaves permanent marks in society. These marks carry memories and provide space for expressing existence. The greatest and most mysterious thing that art leaves behind is its effects. German philosopher Martin Heidegger says art resists life’s triviality, because the depth of art lies in taking another look at existence. He adds that the effects of art are almost like an incident that resembles a struggle between the planet and humanity.

Art has a role in empowering society when it passes through difficult political times

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran


Art saves memories that are almost forgotten. It becomes like a space that stores what humans have forgotten. Themes and musical notes are what sum up the experience of nations’ truth, existence and reality. They were all established while people worked in ploughing land and in nature. Society’s scattered memories are now present via musical notes, phonemes and mawawil (traditional vocal music). This is where the role of the community’s oblivion comes in establishing the effects of art.

All artistic creativity comes following an oblivion. Vigilance, which is present in the sentiment we feel when we interact with the effects of art, reflects the desire to realize the essence of art, which does not have a tangible essence.

In her book “The Human Condition,” philosopher Hannah Arendt - who studied philosophy with Heidegger, and who was close to his sentiment and heart - wrote: “It’s this closeness to living recollection that enables the poem to remain, to retain its durability outside the printed or the written page, and though the ‘quality’ of a poem may be subject to a variety of standards, its ‘memorability’ will inevitably determine its durability, that is, its chance to be permanently fixed in the recollection of humanity.

“A poem, no matter how long it existed as a living spoken word in the recollection of the bard and those who to listened to him, will eventually be ‘made,’ that is, written down and transformed into a tangible thing among things, because remembrance and the gift of recollection, from which all desire for imperishability springs, need tangible things to remind them, lest they perish themselves.”

She described the poem and its artistic influence. The same applies to all forms of art. Art takes its live path when it is understood not as something immersed in life’s emptiness, or something related to the triviality of the product or randomness of the behavior of people interacting with it, but as a wide space of immortal sentences, symbols and voices linked to society.


Art has witnessed great leaps during times of wars and crises in Europe. Art flourished during the most miserable and difficult times, as it is a partner that plays a role in description. It has a role in empowering society when it passes through difficult political times. This is only achieved when we master understanding art and go beyond triviality.

In this case, we do not need to justify art concerts via political logic, especially since the Saudi leadership has established the royal art academy, whose task is to look after the sophistication of art and improve it so what starts as a hobby is enhanced by academic work.

The cases of “art’s exile,” which Abdo spoke of, would not have happened if there had been understood limits that protect different aspects (politics, religion, art etc.) from obstructed communication. Art must be separated from other fields and purified from other things. There is no logical justification to halting art concerts, because they are a genuine part of the individual’s existence, a part that is rather revived during times of conflict. As Heidegger said, artwork is based on the active struggle between the planet and humanity.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 22, 2016.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.

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