Eighteen months on, their names are forgotten. They’ve become numbers, over a thousand people who died bravely and innocently, shot dead, electrocuted, beaten and tortured by police and soldiers who – 18 months later – are either found innocent or were never there in the first place, due to lack of evidence. Because photographs, videos, testimonies and countless reports by human rights groups don’t count. It must have been Hammas.
In recent months, the Mohamed Mahmoud mural became a celebrated museum, a glorified and glamorised manifestation of the Port Said martyrs’ faces and memories. Much has been written, photographed, exhibited, lectured and filmed, and the artists who made the mural weren’t happy with the change in tides.
When I heard that Ammar Abo Bakr and co were painting over the mural to write ‘Forget what has passed and focus on the elections instead’ I had a gut reaction of emotional outrage. Like many others, the mural to me was a personal, beautiful work of art that I hoped would somehow be preserved to remind us all of what – and whom- we’d lost.
Then I met Ammar at the wall at midnight, and he told me of his disdain towards the election process, towards the very institution that had benefited greatly from the mural (that’s you, AUC), towards the public’s distraction by the ongoing mess of the presidential elections, while the real cause of the mural, the loss of life during the revolution and for the revolution, had been cast aside.
Returning days later to see the mural in its near completed glory, I was completely enthralled by the biting sarcasm of the statement, by the haunting beauty of the mothers’ faces. Ammar told me that no artists would dare to paint over their mural, so they decided to do it themselves, vandalising their own work, adding a very poignant layer to the many layers of this history on the wall.
Right next to the martyrs’ mural, a piece by streets Ahmed Al Masry, IAhmed Abdallah, KIM and Saiko has had an interesting evolution. Days before the elections, baladeya people were sent out to paint the corner of Kasr El Eini and Mohamed Mahmoud (leaving the AUC wall untouched), removing the excellent mural of politicians being controlled by SCAF. Almost immediately, a different artist painted an Ikhwan candidate on one side and SCAF, presumably Tantawi, on the other. I was lucky enough to photograph a girl posing with her finger stuck into the MB’s nose. Days later, the group of artists presumably returned, this time making presidential candidates Shafiq and Morsi the puppets.
Political and election-related graffiti has popped up all over Cairo, with campaign graffiti for and against the presidential candidates, including Hamdeen Sabbahi, Ahmed Shafiq, Khaled Ali and (several months ago) Salafi candidate Hazem Abo Ismail.
Street art is still relevant and still thriving, even if the glitter and fascination has faded for many. As long as this mess of politics continues, and the people are neither appeased or vindicated for the suffering of thirty years plus one hell of a year, graffiti will continue.