Painting over graffiti in the dead of night while soldiers guard you is stupid. Painting over then denying you knew anything about it shows that you’re a regime not in control of your own police; which begs the question, who controls the country?
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.
If you Google search Cairo Street Art, Ganzeer’s name is your top result. Countless interviews and features on the artist follow. As arguably the most recognized name on Cairo’s art scene today, it’s no surprise that Ganzeer is the most sought-after interview subject and reference on graffiti in Cairo.
Once again, graffiti has returned to the streets of Tahrir and the Mogama’ building as Egyptian demonstrators flooded back to the Square on November 19th. The street art covers layers of previous graffiti on the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street, only this time the tone is more sombre, calling for the freedom of jailed activists, commemorating those who lost their eyes or died during the November 19 protests, and denouncing the regime for the atrocities and injustice it is responsible for.
After two months of seriously hard work, the exhibition ‘This Is Not Graffiti’ opened last night at Townhouse Gallery’s Factory Space in Downtown Cairo.
Having stalked them, befriended them and followed them around like an overenthusiastic puppy for the past six months, I think I’ve sort of figured out the mentality of certain graffiti artists in Cairo.
This really cool tumblr was sent to me by Hashem Kelesh via twitter. One Year Project is an experimental project by three very talented Egyptian artists, Moe Al Hussainy, Islam Shabana, and Hashem Kelesh, where they photograph themselves each day and send the photos to each other.
Lately, the graffiti I’ve stumbled upon around Cairo seems to be predominantly faces of pop icons, political figures and cartoon characters, mostly Western references but with several Egyptian icons as well. It’s an exciting and eclectic mix of Ghandi and Batman, Baradei and astronauts.
So a little revolution happened. The streets filled up, people yelled, a tyrant was dethroned and the world media fixated on Egypt’s younger generation, saying nice (though patronizing) things about us for once.
One of the things that we Egyptians have in common with Syrians is our democratically elected rulers’ penchant for killing their own people – only Syria’s Bashar El Assad has thrown caution (and chummy relations with the morally conscious Western governments) to the wind by attempting to wipe out all of the people who don’t like him.
The walls of the Mogamaa are filled with protest graffiti. There’s rarely an empty space left between the large and colourful murals by HK, the witty caricature-like pieces by Hosny and the stencils by El Teneen, Sad Panda and many anonymous artists. Continue reading Protest Graffiti in Tahrir – The Mogamaa
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. Continue reading An Evening on The Streets With Keizer
‘Excuse me,’ he walks up to me as I hesitantly put my camera down, ‘What does this picture mean?’
He points at the Keizer stencil of Mickey Mouse on the grey wall. Mahmoud Bassiouny Street on a Saturday afternoon is crowded, and people seem still wary of any snap-happy camera-toting thug like me. Who knows, I could be another Facebook-loving Zionist spy.
‘I think that’s Mickey Mouse,’ I say helpfully.
‘Yes but what does it mean? And who is that man next to him?’
He’s bald with a graying walrus moustache, probably in his mid-forties, his full cheeks sweating as he fans at his pin-striped pink shirt.
‘I’m not quite sure,’ I say politely, wishing I could go back to my camera, but he appears adamant for an answer. ‘Maybe it’s a president? It could be George Bush.’
‘Yes but what is George Bush doing with Mickey Mouse? I like this picture, I walk past it every day, but I wish there’d be some writing explaining it so that I could understand.’
How do I explain dichotomy or irony in Arabic? My mind goes blank.
‘Err… maybe the guy who made this wants you to think about it and come up with your own idea?’ I offer weakly.
He seems even more baffled. ‘Well I don’t want to figure it out myself, it’s much easier if he just tells me what it means so I know what to think.’
I ponder on whether I should bring up the whole we-lived-under-a-dictatorship-that-told-us-what-to-think-for-thirty-years-arent-you-happy-to-think-for-yourself-for-once theory, but I don’t. I’d rather move on, plus something about his walrus moustache makes him look like an NDP fan. Yes, I’m racist like that. I judge your political affiliation by your facial hair.
‘I mean it’s nice and everything,’ he continues eagerly, ‘But not as nice as the beautiful flags they paint everywhere, so pretty. You know, I was in Tahrir every day, I was one of the shabab of the revolution…’
Ah yes. The most overused line that launches every conversation since January 25th. Somehow I get stuck between a man and the wall I want to photograph as he talks for a full twenty minutes without interruption about Tahrir, Alaa Aswany, what he thinks of Baradei, the elections, the Muslim Brotherhood, yadayada, while I check my phone, make coughing noises, fiddle with my camera lense, shift from one foot to another, check my phone again. Eventually, he offers me his phone number and I politely say goodbye.
The camera never leaves my protective hands, held up against my chest like ammunition, pointing directly at him.
For exact locations of graffiti in Cairo, check out the Cairo Street Art Map.