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Nanna Bonde Thylstrup (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark)
Donatella Della Ratta (John Cabot University, Rome, Italy)
Anthony Downey (Birmingham City University, UK)
Chair: Nat Muller (Birmingham City University, UK)

The degree to which artists and cultural institutions utilised digital media to promote social and political change following the Arab Spring raises significant and timely questions about the relationship between global networked systems of communication and cultural activism. Since 2011, digital images have become closely associated with activist practices, which has in turn produced a number of prevailing assumptions about how effective digital and social media are as tools for embracing and enabling political transformation. Taking into consideration recent revelations concerning the role of social media in surveillance technologies, political repression, and the proliferation of targeted disinformation, and attendant anxieties about the opaque power of algorithms, this panel will explore critical frameworks for understanding the relationship between digitised media and cultural activism. The broader issue here concerns a perennial, indeed worldwide, issue: how do cultural practices — through digital means — realign how we engage with historical events and images of revolutionary conflict?

This event is co-organised by Professor Anthony Downey (Birmingham City University) and Modern Art Oxford.


Nanna Bonde Thylstrup

Nanna Bonde Thylstrup is the author of The Politics of Mass Digitization (MIT Press, 2019). ​She was recently appointed Associate Professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School (CBS). Bonde Thylstrup is affiliated with several large-scale collaborative research projects exploring the role of archives, infrastructures, and cultural memory institutions in the age of digitization and big data. Recently she has been working on issues related to data, waste and environmental memory.

Donatella Della Ratta

Donatella Della Ratta is the author of Shooting a Revolution: Visual Media and Warfare in Syria (Pluto Press, 2018) and Assistant Professor of Communications and Media Studies at John Cabot University, Rome. From 2007 until 2011 she lived in Damascus and carried out extensive media ethnography of Syrian TV series, which became the topic of her Ph.D. research, obtained from the University of Copenhagen in 2013. She is a former Post-Doctoral Fellow at University of Copenhagen and at the Annenberg School for Communication, Pennsylvania University and an Affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. To date, she has authored three monographs on Arab media, and contributed chapters on Syrian media and politics in several edited books. She is a contributor to Italian and international media outlets such as Al Jazeera English, Hyperallergic, Internazionale, and Il Manifesto. She has professional experience as a journalist, TV author and producer, and managed the Arabic-speaking community of the international NGO Creative Commons [] for five years (2008-2013). She has curated several art exhibitions and film programs on Syria, and she is a co-founder and board member of the web aggregator on creative resistance SyriaUntold [].

Anthony Downey

Anthony Downey is Professor of Visual Culture in the Middle East and North Africa within the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media at Birmingham City University. He sits on the Editorial Board of Third Text ( and is an Associate Researcher for the Institute of Human Activities. Recent and upcoming publications include Unbearable States: Digital Media and Human Rights after the Arab Spring (forthcoming, 2020), Displacement Activities: Contemporary Art, the Refugee Condition, and the Alibi of Engagement (forthcoming, Sternberg Press, 2019); Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a Bullet: The Works of Hiwa K (Walther König Books, 2017); Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East (Sternberg Press, 2016); Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (I.B. Tauris, 2015); and Art and Politics Now (Thames and Hudson, 2014). In 2019, he will launch Research/Practice (Sternberg Press, 2019), which will examine the role and uses of research in artistic practices today.

Nat Muller

Nat Muller is an independent curator and writer. She is an AHRC Midlands3Cities-funded PhD candidate at Birmingham City University researching science fiction in contemporary visual art from the Middle East. She is a regular contributor to art publications and has edited a variety of monographs including Sadik Kwaish Alfraji (Schilt Publishing, 2015) and Nancy Atakan’s Passing On (Kehrer Verlag, 2016). She has curated video and film screenings for amongst others Rotterdam's International Film Festival (NL), Norwegian Short Film Festival (NO), International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (DE), and Video D.U.M.B.O (USA). Recent exhibition projects include Spectral Imprints for the Abraaj Group Art Prize in Dubai (2012); This is the Time. This is the Record of the Time at Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam & American University of Beirut Gallery (2014/15); Stirring the Pot of Story for Delfina Foundation’s Politics of Food Program in London (2015); the A.M. Qattan 2016 Young Artist of the Year Award at Qalandiya International in Ramallah. She has been appointed curator of the Danish Pavilion for the 58th Venice Biennale.