Mostafa Youssef, PhD in the Arts

This project explores the two interrelated discourses of iconoclasm and idolatry in the political history of Contemporary Middle East and North Africa. It focuses on the paradox that generally characterizes the symbols of power: built to propagate specific ideologies and power structures within the public domain, they remain contested and embedded in social and political conflict, becoming prone to acts of iconoclasm. While iconoclasm has been commonly performed to erase symbols from public consciousness, there are instants where this complete destruction is replaced with more subtle forms of re-contextualization and utilization, creating a more potent political statement, which renders iconoclasm as a creative performance. Thus, I explore how a symbol of power can become an agent that reclaims space for multiple histories and narratives to come together? At moments of socio-political upheavals, how can a performative act of iconoclasm become a part of longer-term, creative and critical conversations and practices that engage the people more effectively? How the public domain can accommodate the performance of iconoclasm, giving the people the opportunity to participate and have a voice in the utilization process? The project will include a visual atlas, that
documents major iconoclastic acts, drawing from archival sources and recollections. It will provide a thorough reference to the performance of iconoclasm with regards to the symbol’s form, social location, mode of destruction as well as the motives, strategies, feelings and roles of the iconoclasts and idolaters. The project will manifest its findings through a board game, that acts as a tool to generate dialogue and critical consciousness and to experiment with the open
possibilities of the performative acts of iconoclasm and the changing forms of idolatry.


  • Dr. Volkmar Mühleis (supervisor, KULeuven/LUCA)
  • Mrs. Ala Younis (co-supervisor)

Research unit: Image

Duration: 2021 - 2025