His car stinks of spray cans. The back seat is filled with enough aerosol cans to make a pyromaniac weep with joy. If he were ever stopped and searched by the police, he’d have a field day explaining the bottles, posters, surgical gloves and tape.
But Keizer is always ready for everything; his furiously fast brain always has an answer prepared with an appropriately innocent smile. To a stranger, it’s hard to tell if he’s being genuine and warm, or if there’s a darker wit beneath the friendly smile.
We’re on his turf, his playground; the back wall of El Ahly Club in Zamalek. Once peppered with pre-revolution graffiti such as the Michael Jackson stencil and the Man on the Cloud, the street’s walls are now filled with new post-revolution graffiti works by the likes of the Sad Panda, CBJ, Zook and Keizer.
In fact, one wall is dominated by Keizer, it’s like his practice ground where he tests out a new art piece. It’s a quiet street, and at night he’s rarely interrupted except by the occasional street sweeper or curious passing car.
That being said, in the half hour that I spend with him, he is stopped by at least five men on separate occasions. They approach him tentatively, so he says ‘7obby’ (my love) and reaches out to shake their hands; it’s a successful formula that saves him from head-on confrontations with suspicious and wary passersby. I’m one of you, his body language speaks; I’m not a crazy person spraying the wall.
They ask him about his art, they want to know what it means. Why the woman with the grenade? What does the English text say? They tell him they wish he would make something they can understand, and he wholeheartedly agrees.
Why is his graffiti predominantly in English?
‘Definitely to attack the upper echelons of society,’ he answers.
This makes sense when you look at his quotes like ‘Who’s Watching the Watchers’ or pieces like the Snow White with the machine gun. These art pieces speak to a segment of Egyptian society that watches Walt Disney and speaks English well enough to appreciate the dichotomy between the cartoon character’s femininity and the brutality of the weapon.
He targets the big-wig corporations, the perpetuators of capitalism and consumerism, the corrupt businessmen, and the SCAF… new names are continuously being added to his hit list.
‘I’m taking on everything that monogenizes humans into a closed space,’ he says simply; as if that could summarise his art in one sentence.
It’s hard to categorize Keizer’s graffiti into one neat box, and he’s wary of being misinterpreted and pigeon-holed. But if I would, I’d say there’s something whimsical and fluid about his stencils, like the little girl on the swing, the 50s style housewife with the hand grenade, or the dark humor of Mickey Mouse and the bomb.
While some graffiti artists in Cairo make an occasional stencil here and there, Keizer has made graffiti his full-time occupation: he eat, sleeps, dreams, talks graffiti. He spends days designing, drawing freehand, cutting and perfecting stencils, and talks about his upcoming projects and ideas with the passion of someone who’s found his calling on the free-for-all street walls.
His most common and widespread graffiti stencil is of the masked face, originally a trademark piece called ‘Obey’ by graffiti artist Shepard Fairey, but with some tweaks to the original. Why did he choose to replicate such a famous graffiti icon?
‘There is no such thing as ripping off in art,’ he says. ‘Every master I thought to be the symbol of originality turns out to have been influenced and copied others.’
He sends me some quotes by Picasso and other art greats on the issue of art and imitation, including this one: ‘Nothing is original, steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination… […] originality is non-existent, and don’t bother concealing your thievery- celebrate it if you feel like it […] always remember: it’s not where you take things from -it’s where you take them to.’
Fairey himself is considered to be one of the biggest plagiarists on the art scene, having stolen many of his concepts from Eastern European political propaganda. A little googling and researching later, I find that Keizer’s version of ‘Obey’ is awfully similar to Baxter Orr’s, a graffiti artist who imitated Fairey and called it ‘Protect’ with a gas mask on the face. Ironically, Fairey sued Orr in 2008 for using his trademark. Now Fairey is being sued by AP for his use of an AP photo of Barak Obama in his world-famous hope poster campaign. So Keizer is imitating the artist that is being sued for imitating the artist that is being sued for ripping off everyone from AP to Eastern European artists.
This leads me to questioning my own definition of art and plagiarism; is there really such a thing as originality? Is there even a graffiti artist out there who isn’t somehow inadvertently or consciously imitating other artists?
Keizer doesn’t think so.
‘You’re influenced from the day you were born and when you create something you think this is mine, this came from my soul,’ he says. ‘But there was a cartoon you saw, an ad you saw, there’s something that came into play that helped it come out. We always think we’re free of influence, or if we copy or imitate someone, we’re selling out, we’re doomed. It’s not like that.’
Already compared to Banksy by a few fans for his clean-cut stencils with their pop-culture references, Keizer says he’s wary of studying the British graffiti artist in case he becomes too immersed in him. He disagrees that Banksy has become too commercial, too mainstream for the underground graffiti scene.
‘I don’t think he sold out and I don’t think there’s a way to protect [graffiti] from going commercial,’ he says. ‘The only way to do that is to keep sending the right message that Banksy did in his documentary [Exit Through A Gift Shop], which is this is for all, this is not just about the hype and the money. [Graffiti] is accessible to everyone; we should all be doing it. There’s no exclusive club.’
At what point does artistic expression become vandalism? Thoughts ?
At what point does asking about street cleaning becomes a thread against the people who wants free expression of their voices in a country, where free expression was forbidden?
just my 5 cents…
reminds me of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banksy
Keizer’s philosophy is absolutely on the spot,,,its strange,,,you would think that by now,,people would understand this concept,due to the fact that its a very old and an organic reoccuring thing.
Wasnt that what Andy Warhol and so many others did? Are you guys trying to kill street art down there?
Art is like fashion, it is a theme and variation, not copyright and ownership, so I don’t think plagiarism or image theft is a fitting critique.
the name of the other street artist is “CBJ” not “CJB” …and if there is no originality and everyone copies from som1 else..so that som1 else..where did he copied it from :(…but anyways i always say..and even write it on walls..”too much graffiti can kill u “…life is so sad tho..:(
First, I would like to state something, it is a shame that considering Keizer an artist in the first place. Where the damn is your originality, and who in the world said that there is no originality, and consider copying styles and even copying pieces as it is, a philosophy?
we need artists who is working on something real, something that enlighten people..not fake, posers, who came out on the commercial spot light because our society lack of knowledge..and the worst that you copy other’s work and sign it with your name! how cheap!!
It seems his success is going to stirr up a lot of emotions and debates,which is what street art does,just as any person that becomes famous or popular… this will work for his advantage.
I personally knew that the mask was a modification of the Obey poster,,,,,so what!!?:)
If my country was going through a revolution,i would love to see that stencil anywhere!!,,because of its relevancy,it would inspire me and fuel me,,i would at least appreciate it….and thats what counts…but it seems that the message isnt important nor the time it was presented ,it seems judgement preceeds appreciation there,and that is simply sad. I hope this changes with the new Egypt.
What a shame..seems humans will always forget to enjoy rather than see the cracks in everything. Street art critics are always going to be people that dont draw,dont paint and never get their hands dirty with the artists ,they are people standing behind cameras with huge egos.
These are simple facts to the world and here in the UK,,any journalist would through themselves under a bus for a scoop or story or a new street artist they cant get their hands on…They are the ones that write articles,graffitti books,take endless pictures,put the work on tv ,magazines,newspapers,, tshirts and posters,,and then they blame a guy like Banksy for being commercial. Pathetic.
Its the classic case of journalistic media parasites feeding off the daring,those risking it out there.
And why hasnt anybody adressed the fact that these journalists and critics make thousands of dollars of taking these pictures and calling it theirs???…i noticed the photos of Keizer in this article here,,, were word press copyrighted? Which explains precisely what i was saying,,,so the journalist now thinks street art is theirs,because they happened to have a camera?
Thank you journalism,,,for taking what is considered to be public for the people…and turning it into private property. I think everyone should take a good look at themselves in the mirror,and as Keizer said “There is no originality just authenticity.”
Adam, is it? Ok, here’s the deal: in the advertising business, execs do this thing called research, right? the idea behind the research is to get a feel of how that product/service was pitched before so they can build on these thoughts. The operative words here being “BUILD ON THESE THOUGHTS” not rob ’em and call it theirs. There’s a huge difference between stealing shit and calling it yours and between building on something and calling it yours. Your argument is that you used inspiration and slightly modified it, but You used other people’s stuff and you called it yours. And what’s with the whole attack on journalists man, and what kinda argument is that anyway?? Is this GQ or Vogue and I’m on the wrong website? A blogger by definition brings issues and other stuff into the spotlight, which is what this blog is doing. you’re the only commentator here that’s taking this very personally. I wonder why??? You say you hope things change with the new Egypt. I say the same thing, except I say it to the likes of Keizer, who still persist on kidding only themselves.
Personally i figuered out when i was 12 that we dont have one original thought in our heads… I think it is the same with art too… i used to try to make up something fake just to feel that i had a thought in my head that not one person had thought before me. But that is what makes art great (all forms, books, music, paintings) bec we recognize ourselves in it. This is what i feel, but i dont know how to explain it any better… i just think art is very personal… and it wouldnt have any meaning unless we could interpret it our own way, and lets face it, anything that is that open for personal interpretation is not very original… I think if we were original we would be seperate,not being original means your part of something and connected with the rest of the universe.
Tamer Hosny is it?:) as in the hairy singer? …You say you work as an exucective in advertising 🙂
Seriously I rest my case:) Its like trying to con a jewish lawyer,,it would be a waste of breath and energy.May god rid the earth of your types,all your good for is brainwashing and deceptive psycholigical tactics on the public..the power to convince us to buy shit we dont need…..you guys belong in a room where you can sell your soulsas products to each other for cheap accompanied with the soundtrack of your favourite ad jingles playing in the background…,You sooo should have removed your job title mate,you lost credibility the moment you typed it….Advertsing:) Otherwise this discusiion could have been intresting.
Do something useful with your life,make a diffrence,,its never too late.
And you just figured out I was in advertising…..How??? Read the post over and over and maybe you’ll get it. I said advertising ppl do so so and so. I never said I was in anything. Here’s what I suggest you do. First, attention to detail. Second, easy on the assumptions. Three, stop writing/saying the stuff you heard from other ppl and liked so much, you can’t stop repeating it. Four, get yourself an original thought, will you? Good luck man. Let me know when you get that original thought… I’m here all week.
Do you think we are saying that because Keiser is lucky and he got interviewed? and he got succeed..do you think we envy him!!??? 😀 how cheap is that!!
spreading copies of many artists (not only Obey) around the city is becoming a success?..
Who said that there is no originality..ok, people, look commercialism fucked up your minds and put a lot of crap inside it..
when you draw a line this line belongs to you, and it draws your identity, when you design any poster then it’s your design that carries your ideas and thoughts, then what is the concept that you are working on?, the concept could be used billions of fucking times before..you are not gonna invite the wheel, but you should do it yourself..not copying stencils, then you become the “Egyptian Banksy”, wohooo who got interviews with an anonymous identity and that makes him a street artist, just because Egyptian people are not aware of street art or art in general..grow up people, grow-fucking-up if you want to build a real culture!!
Awwww,,,isnt this sweet,,everyone is hung up on 3 or 4 or 5 stencils:)
I wonder why people are under the impression that Keizer ran out of paper and paint?…
As if the guy isnt going to produce anything:) ,Except ofcourse for those stencils that you guys are your holding on to dearly.You know…. the ones giving you nightmares:)
And i dont know if you guys are in denial or what exactly it is,,,but i read the articles and saw the street art,,and if Keizer is ripping off,then at least he has taste and style,seriously did you guys just turn a blind eye,to the Homer Simpson graffiti? The solidarty hand? Woody Allen? The Street Fighter Grafitti? and get me started on the plastering,,Yeah,,print out a picture and go stick it on a wall,,how original right? At least i respect people that stencil,because they use their hands and put effort.But then again i think its all beautiful,but according to this rationale its all kosher except for Keizer.
,I cant even remember because theres soo many rip offs,,according to your definitions….talk about selective profiling.
You guys really now how to suck the joy out of anything.
But then again im talking to what ,2% of the Egyptian public? Especially compared to those that dont have internet in your country?
So I wudnt be surprised if i was talking to the same people Keizer despises.The golden crust dipped into the creme de la creme of society,the bright minds of the future:)
Why would you even think for a moment,,, how ithe art might have made simpler people feel? The real Egypt?
But I guess your the high chancellors the appointed ones,the authorties on street art and probably many other things…get over yourselves for a second…Egypt and maybe even the universe,,,, doesnt just revolve around you.
Your at best observers and nothing close to participators in your own countrys struggle and poverty.No wonder Cairo cant influence a vote to save its ass.The other governates do,and for obvious reasons.Simply because your at best a minute sample of a country .
Mr 4sprays is defientely under 25 years old,,or just turned 25?:)
Who are you fighting with mate?,,seems like a lot of anger you got there:)When you dont need it:)You guys ganging up on one street artist,,makes it all more comprehendable and easier to laugh,,maybe thats why im expressing and sharing my thoughts here…is there such a need to crush or piss on something? Especially when Keizer isnt here to argue or agree ..on anything:) Well hes definetefly the smartest one here.
Are you a street artist Mr 4spray Cans or is it justa nick name you carry around the net to make sure no one confuses your work with another art industry? Have you produced anthing ,,would love to see your work:)
I dunno what my age should do with this argument..If you think my nickname is silly but to know I didn’t have a nickname from the start and I didn’t want to have one, even suzi called the sad panda and he talked to me to get a nickname (for tagging my work in here) and I refused..the whole media thing and interviewing the street artists wasn’t in my plan when I started!
but after seeing this crap and the voices calling for “no originality” shit and let’s copy what’s wrong I decided to not letting it go like this..
I do graffiti before the revolution and Suizi’s avatar was one of my first things ever back to almost a year and a half..Fatima’s hand giving the middle finger in red above there.
If you were smart enough you would noticed my signature on my works among the pictures in this blog or any other blog (and that’s the point of it, to spread it on street then keep it in pictures here and there to document the work) , that if you were interested in seeing the work and not “arguing”, but you are now arguing with the community of the street art so don’t drift the argument on me and my works and my age!
Mr. philosopher and art critique, I am not saying that I am a good artist, but I respect the original work..I don’t like El Tneen work because of the quality and their concept, but at least they don’t copy all their pieces. I don’t know any artist who respect copying others work and say that its his because people lack of knowledge, instead of lighting their minds with original artworks we give them fake bullshits; for me Keiser is not smart or an artist, he is just another thief..end of discussion.
As much as I appreciate this ongoing debate, i think the whole point is completely missed: the profile of Keizer is that of a talented street artist who has a different perspective on originality than me. It doesnt mean he’s wrong and i’m right; it means we’re different. It’s healthy to discuss art, as long as you keep it healthy. And Adam, your opinion on me really hurt my big ego. Since you’re in Cairo, why don’t you contact me and say what you want to say about me face to face?
Keizer definitely has a post-modern vision of arts. Post-modern debates about reality, truth and – related to this article – artistic expressions are inspiring to me. I invite you to read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism as in introduction, if you like to refresh your memory about post-modernism.
There is nothing artistic about copying other people’s work exactly. This is even more pathetic than Mr. Brainwash in Banksy’s Exit through the Gift Shop. Keizer, your stencils are very well done but create something original for fuck’s sake and stop blaming PoMo for only creating replicas. Panda, this shit makes me sad 😦
If YOU sang a song written by somebody else, would you claim that this somebody was singing it at the moment while it was actually YOU? I hope YOU would claim that it was YOU! Because it was YOU. YOU practiced it, YOU interpreted it, YOU performed it in a specific place at a specific point in time. YOU were responsible for this performance.
That is why I really appreciate that Keizer takes the responsibility for the stencils he puts on the walls in Cairo and signs them. Thank you ya Keizer!
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Great pictures!!! I have to say you did a really great job of capturing a lot of kaizer’s work.
You did miss a couple of little gems though, it seems you might not be familiar with his complete work.
Also just a little criticism, you’re writing style is SO HORRIBLE that i just skipped the article altogether and looked at the pictures instead, you write it like an essay not a blog entry on graf.
Thank you for making a supremely interesting subject atrociously boring!
hey thanks pal for the feedback. i’ll definitely try to work on making my writing less boring, God knows it must be so awful to read. And please, when you want to write something mean, have the guts to use your real name instead of these silly fake ones.
All Graffiti is haram and your all going to hell.
Shaaban, maybe some salafi graffiti is in order? think of the walls you could grace with your slogans! now that’s hot.
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Thank you for such an interesting post; you did a great job of taking us into Kaizer’s world and laying out the influences / imitation issues. We are lucky to be witnessing this hugely creative moment, long may it last….
Although I, before I read the comments on this article, thought this blog was inspiring and interesting, I sincerely hope that the blogger in the future can refrain from petty and childish discussions with the silly and immature people, who feel they have to get personal! Indeed some people have misunderstood your initial intentions… and that is sad and unfortunate! However, I personally think, that more mature responses on such childish attacks would have been more appropriate… But beside that, maybe annoying comment, thank you for the fascinating blog, and I hope you keep it up!
And the others, whoever you are (representing), I sincerely hope you all understand, that it is a question of interpretation. The perspective on originality lies in the eye of the beholder! So maybe the questions asked and the following discussions shouldn´t be revolving on “Should he [Keizer] be allowed to copy?” or ”Is it plain rip-off?“, but rather “What does his [Keizers] work actually tell us, and maybe more importantly the public, knowing he is, let´s say, VERY inspired by other artists?” and “Was Mr. Brainwash really a rip-off, or was the story about him, a story about something else?”. Afterall, at least i don´t think, taking the current situaion in to account, the revolution is about any of YOU…
Anyways, hopefully see you out there! 😉
Your a douche bag Mr.Peace,get your head out of your ass and stop judging people you don’t know.
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