Universal gesture?

April 23, 2019—This photograph of Alaa Salah, a 22-year-old student in Sudan pointing above heads of protesters, took off on social media. Sudanese commenter Hind Makki suggests a reason: the image presents an inspiring mix of female power and Sudanese cultural and political heritage. But even without this context, the image just works. Especially in the West, visual culture has long relied on the language of gesture to convey narrative. Look at each figure in Poussin’s nearby painting. Through body language, we can read their reactions to Germanicus’s death: shock (leaning in, arms extended), sorrow (face in hands), and defiance (arm raised, pointing finger). Over centuries, norms of depiction in European (and later Euro-American) art solidified into a visual language understood by artists and viewers. Is it any surprise, then, that many online viewers outside Sudan are captivated by this image?

Image: Lana H. Haroun Source: Vanessa Friedman, “‘It’s Going to Be the Image of the Revolution,’” The New York Times, April 10, 2019;