Watch the latest episode of Homeland — a series that’s received awards and accolades but also criticism over its portrayal of the Middle East and Muslims — and you’ll spot some interesting graffiti in the background.
In one scene, a Hezbollah commander escorting Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) through a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon passes by a wall. Scrawled across it reads this message in Arabic: “Homeland is racist.” (See a GIF of that moment here.)
Three artists say they were hired by a production company in June to paint graffiti as a way to bolster the aesthetic authenticity of the set on the outskirts of Berlin. But rather than scrawl the fake refugee camp with pro-President Bashar al-Assad graffiti, they hatched another plan, Cairo-based artist Heba Amin said: “What if we could use this as an opportunity to be subversive, to make a point with it?”
A statement from the three artists — Amin, Caram Kapp and an artist known as Stone who was approached first by the production company to find “Arabian street artists” to paint the set — criticises Homeland for providing “inaccurate, undifferentiated and highly biased depiction of Arabs, Pakistanis, and Afghans.”
“It’s very important for us to address the idea that this kind of stereotyping is very dangerous because it helps form people’s perceptions of an entire region, a huge region, which in turn affects foreign policy,” Amin said. “It was a way to claim back our image.”
Homeland co-creator Alex Gansa said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly: “We wish we’d caught these images before they made it to air. However, as Homeland always strives to be subversive in its own right and a stimulus for conversation, we can’t help but admire this act of artistic sabotage.”
Phrases that made it onto the set, according to the artists’ photos, include: “Homeland is NOT a series;” “Homeland is watermelon;” and “This show does not represent the views of the artists.”
Other slogans contain cultural references, including #BlackLivesMatter, Amin said. In the phrase “Homeland is racist,” the word used for “homeland” could be interpreted a different way, Amin said. In another instance, the artists used a transliterated word for “homeland.”
Stone, who has studied graffiti in the Middle East, had trouble finding artists agreeing to work on the project “because of their political standpoints,” Amin said.
Then they came up with the idea to “hack” the show with their art. The artists consulted with friends and family to brainstorm Arabic proverbs and poetic slogans “that could be read, in a certain way, as subversive,” Amin said.
The group switched strategies after they began painting and spray-painting during a frantic two-day set decoration period. Filming began the third day, they said.
“We discovered that no one was paying attention or even asking what we were writing,” Amin said. “Initially, we started writing the proverbs, and then we realised we could write whatever we wanted.”
On Sunday, months after painting the set, the episode The Tradition of Hospitality aired. Screenshots and GIFs of the graffiti scenes circulated online between the three artists, Amin said. They released an artist statement Wednesday under title The Arabian Street Artists.
“It was a huge surprise, and not a surprise,” Amin said about the graffiti making it onto the show. “In a sense, this is why we had the idea to begin with. … We knew there wasn’t much research and energy into accurately depicting” the region.
The Washington Post