Tag Archives: Egypt

Ode to Alexandria – Where it all began

Inside the decrepit remains of a former malahy space, Azarita Corniche.
Inside the decrepit remains of a former malahy space, Azarita Corniche.

Definition of irony: I lived almost twenty years in Alexandria, but it was only after I moved to Cairo and started writing about graffiti that I found all threads leading me back home.

It seemed that everyone I spoke to about graffiti claimed that the movement was born in Alexandria in the early 2000s, with visual artists like Aya Tarek, Wensh (check out his behance gallery) and Amir Rizk cited as the pioneers.

Visiting home over three years, I came across a lot of fascinating street art, some of which were quite old (B.T.: Before Thawra) and experimental, more nuanced in their messages.

Smouha/Sidi Gaber, behind the train tracks.
Smouha/Sidi Gaber, behind the train tracks.

Like any homesick Alexandrian, I found myself driving along the corniche a lot, noting the architectural and visual changes, the disintegration of the sites of my nostalgia, be it the Dome of St. Marc School, the steps to Sayed Darwish’s house or the forlorn boat hulls next to Anfoushi’s fish market (the real fish market, not the Fish Market restaurant).

I came across this collection of street art by accident, in one case sneaking into the shell of a decrepit building by the sea, and finding the beautiful mural at the top of this blog post.

Twitter themed graffiti near the EGC.
Twitter themed graffiti near the EGC.

I won’t pretend that this is a comprehensive collection of Alexandrian street art, nor will I claim to know all the names of all the artists who made these pieces. I regret that I didn’t spend more time in Alexandria to document its street art; I have no grasp of what art I may have missed and was never documented. I regret that life took me away to Cairo when the hub of creative expression seemed to be brewing in Alexandria.

As my city falls deeper into a state of decrepit demise, with our heritage sites demolished and cultural icons neglected, I think of these photos as testament to the complexity, creativity and inspiration of Alexandria, but also perhaps, some proof of hope.

Smouha/Sidi Gaber area
Smouha/Sidi Gaber area
This is probably another collaborative project with foreign artists but I don't know any further information
This is probably another collaborative project with foreign artists but I don’t know any further information
Down with Khedive Ismail.
Down with Khedive Ismail.
Next to Zahran, Roushdy on the tram.
Next to Zahran, Roushdy on the tram.
Graffiti by Aya Tarek, Sultan Hussein.
Graffiti by Aya Tarek, Sultan Hussein.
graffiti by Tween
graffiti by Tween
Graffiti by Ma'Claim
Graffiti by Ma’Claim

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Vintage Kareem Gouda, Azarita corniche
Vintage Kareem Gouda, Azarita corniche
Part of the Woman on Walls project, made by Mona Lisa Brigade and others, Azarita corniche
Part of the Woman on Walls project, made by Mona Lisa Brigade and others, Azarita corniche
a different version of Banksy, across the equestrian club in Smouha
a different version of Banksy, across the equestrian club in Smouha

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graffiti by Aya Tarek
graffiti by Aya Tarek

alex tahrir 007

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The best spots for graffiti sightings are in Smouha behind the train tracks and across from the Equestrian club, on the Corniche after San Stefano bridge, in the back streets of the Faculty of Engineering and the EGC, the Officers’ Buildings on (Roushdy) Corniche, and of course, in the area of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Gleem on the tram.

For more photos of Alexandrian graffiti, please click here. Also, read Amro Ali’s piece about Alexandrian street art. Other published articles on Alexandrian street art include this piece, this article, this article and this post.

PS: Ma’Claim returned to Alexandria in 2013 to make this fantastic graffiti on my school’s wall. I never got a chance to take a photo of the final product, but it made me very happy.

Photo courtesy of http://arrestedmotion.com/2011/11/streets-maclaim-egypt/
Photo courtesy of http://arrestedmotion.com/2011/11/streets-maclaim-egypt/

7orreya: Graffiti Exhibition on Freedom of Expression in Cairo

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No matter how seasoned and jaded you are, it’s always a shock to see the ultimate Egyptian symbol of violence and oppression – the police state- on a pair of naked legs or on the back of a dirty, sodden toilet in a decrepit room. But that’s exact what 7orreya does. Continue reading 7orreya: Graffiti Exhibition on Freedom of Expression in Cairo

Street Art and Morsi – Cairo Artists Continue the Fight

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Super Morsi, with the MB logo changed to ‘if it happens, he will deny it’

It feels like I keep writing the same post over and over again: images of sexual harassment, police violence, military violence, more martyrs, young martyrs, poems and tributes to martyrs, satire against Morsi, against religious and political hypocricy, against censorship and in support of freedom of speech. Continue reading Street Art and Morsi – Cairo Artists Continue the Fight

Art in The Streets: Videos on Beirut, Palestine, Tripoli and Cairo for MOCATV

Kabreet and EPS hard at work on a Beirut wall for MOCATV
Kabreet and EPS hard at work on a Beirut wall for MOCATV

It’s not every day that total amateurs get the chance to make a video for a contemporary art museum, but that’s exactly what happened to me when Jeffrey Deitch, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, emailed me out of the blue to ask if I wanted to make a video about graffiti in Cairo for the museum’s new Youtube Channel called MOCA TV. Continue reading Art in The Streets: Videos on Beirut, Palestine, Tripoli and Cairo for MOCATV

Street Art on Mohamed Mahmoud – Photos

Mural by Shaza Khaled and Aliaa El Tayeb, who studied at the Luxor Faculty of Fine Arts. The mural is inspired by a photo-shopped image of a protester in Greece dancing with a ballerina.

Continue reading Street Art on Mohamed Mahmoud – Photos

War on Graffiti – SCAF Vandalists Versus Graffiti Artists

the original mural by Ganzeer and friends, taken on December 2, 2011

 

Days after the first anniversary of January 25, tensions between anti-regime activists and loyalists to the SCAF have now reached the cement walls and streets of Cairo.

The graffiti war, a showdown between revolutionary street artists and a fanatical nationalist team who whitewash their work, is a new and disturbing manifestation of pro-Army popular sentiment.

In recent months, activists have used the walls to diligently spread messages denouncing military rule and military trials of thousands of civilians, and calling for another 25 January revolution. At the same time, military loyalists have just as attentively erased these graffiti pieces, leaving their own pro-army and nationalist messages.

This war, completely unimaginable during Mubarak’s time, has come to a head on one wall: Ganzeer’s famous mural of the tank versus bike.

This massive mural under the 6th of October Bridge in Zamalek is considered by many to be the most iconic piece of graffiti in post-revolution Cairo. A collaborative work by graffiti artist Ganzeer and his friends, and a blatant criticism of the Egyptian military, the mural has remained surprisingly untouched since May 2011.

But in early January 2012, unknown artists painted new additions (photo courtesy of @Mosaaberizing) onto the imposing mural, adding a row of protesters carrying ‘V for Vendetta’ masks, a pool of blood under the tank and bodies collapsing under its wheels — a clear reference to the 9 October Maspiro attacks, when Coptic protesters were run over by military APCs, leaving dozens dead.

Interestingly enough, these additions incited a reaction of their own: A group of pro-SCAF civilians called Badr Team 1 vandalized the mural 10 days later, erasing everything they found offensive to the Egyptian army. This meant erasing everything, except for the tank, that is.

In an amateur video allegedly captured on 20 January, Badr Team 1 (who also called themselves the Badr Battalion) accused graffiti artists of being foreign agents and traitors to Egypt. The team called on all honorable Egyptian youth to erase graffiti, as it was “a method for agents and traitors to spread their violent ideologies against the police, the army and Egyptian traditions.”

This rhetoric is all too familiar to Egyptians who, for the past year, have had to listen to SCAF members broadcasting such accusations in the media.

Graffiti has spread like wildfire throughout Cairo in the past 12 months, and is used by young Egyptian activists to commemorate the victims of the uprising, and to raise awareness of political injustices and crimes committed by the Egyptian military. In the face of the mainstream media’s campaign to tarnish protesters as criminals and cover up military crimes, many activists have turned to graffiti as an alternative means of reaching the average Egyptian on the streets.

And while this shaky amateur video produced by these antagonists  of street art can easily be disregarded as a minor incident, the level of ignorance, paranoia and aggression propagated by the video is worrying.

Its incitement of attacks on graffiti artists, though, is sadly a natural consequence of the past months of hostility bred against all forms of criticism of the Egyptian military.

The irony that the dumbasses of Badr Team have made graffiti to denounce graffiti is clearly lost on them. They say members of the April 6 Youth Movement were responsible for the mural, even though an easy internet search would have led them straight to Ganzeer.

The video also shows the stencils of several martyrs’ faces, which were made after the revolution to commemorate those who died during the January 25 revolution. The stencils once carried their names and the words “Glory to God.” Now, the names are erased, and the words read “Glory to Egypt” instead, showing Badr Team’s fanatical nationalism. It seems Egypt is superior to God in their demented heads.

“These drawings contain Masonic and anarchist codes and symbols,” Badr Team’s statement reads. Badr Team circles those “Masonic” symbols drawn by the graffiti artists, including a sad and fat panda, a bird, a child clasping his hands in prayer and the words “Power to the People.”

They are all clear symbols inciting violence, especially the panda.

The V for Vendetta masks — often used by revolutionary artists, most likely as symbols of defying totalitarianism — are particularly bothersome for army loyalists, including the Muslim Brotherhood. It is worth noting here that a recent article in the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party newspaper warned of anarchists wearing the ‘B for Bendetta’ masks, a spelling mistake that has since been ruthlessly lampooned all over the Egyptian Twitter-sphere.

At any rate, the graffiti community has been quick to respond to attacks by army loyalists, especially the erasure of SCAF’s victims from the famous tank mural. Badr Team 1 had whitewashed all references to SCAF’s atrocities, leaving the solitary tank standing in all its glory with any reference to the Maspiro massacre, the martyrs and the revolutionary protesters wiped out. The words ‘The Army and the Police and the People Are One Hand’ was ironically scrawled nearby.

The green monster is courtesy of the artist Mohamed Khaled

Striking back at Badr Team 1’s pro-SCAF erasure of the mural, a giant green monster of a military policeman chewing on the body of a protester next to stencils of Mona Lisa, Lenin, military leader Hussein Tantawi and other faces were sketched next to the tank. The new additions have been made by a group calling themselves the Mona Lisa Battalion, a tongue-in-cheek hat-tip to the Badr Battalion. The new graffiti faces are whimsical, funny and blatantly political; yet it’s quite possible that the Badr Battalion will not understand that this art is directed at them, that this whole joke is on them.

When asked to comment on the Badr Team video, the original mural’s creator, Ganzeer, said that he was initially happy to have this visual dialogue happening in reaction to the tank mural.

“But when I saw the YouTube video by the ‘Badr Battalion’, I felt a certain kind of sadness that this act was done by a group obviously soaked in ignorance and blind nationalism,” he wrote to me.

“Clearly they’ve been brainwashed by our horrible school textbooks and official media, so brainwashed to the point of stating that ‘The Army, police and people are one hand’.”

Ganzeer couldn’t resist adding the jab, “It’s also obvious that these kids have no sense of aesthetic whatsoever.”

This op-ed has been published in Egypt Independent. You can also read it here.

January 25 – The Anniversary: Graffiti

Have You been Vindicated? added next to mural of Tarek Abdel Latif

Continue reading January 25 – The Anniversary: Graffiti

Conversation with Ganzeer: the Tank, Buddha and Mad Graffiti Week

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.

Continue reading Conversation with Ganzeer: the Tank, Buddha and Mad Graffiti Week

Graffiti in Cairo: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Cow?

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.

Continue reading Graffiti in Cairo: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Cow?

An Afternoon with Sad Panda

Sad Panda across tank vs boy on bike by Ganzeer, Across from Al Ahly Club, Zamalek

We meet under the most peculiar of circumstances.  I’d been in touch with Sad Panda over Twitter about photographing his graffiti in the Cairo area of Masaken Sheraton; yet I, having the mental compass of a duck in the desert, get immediately lost. So he puts me in touch with a friend called Hatem, who will show me Sad Panda’s work in the neighbourhood, but first Hatem asks me if I’d like to see a graffiti artist cutting up stencils. I say yes.

Five seconds in his living room and I realize Hatem is Sad Panda. The poster of a large panda being cut up on the table kinda gives it away. When probed, he demurs and says something along the lines of ‘Why does Sad Panda have to be a person? It could be a group, or a theme, or an entity. Maybe I send stencils to someone in Holland to use them there; they could be Sad Panda there.’

He chain-smokes, his mother offers me cold orange juice, I try not to step on the cat lazing on the floor, and I snap away at my camera as he patiently cuts through the outline of his new stencil.

This is why I find him peculiar, or better, intriguing. For someone who says he isn’t a people’s person – he avoids public transportation and crowded spaces, which make him seriously depressed to the point of a phobia – he is incredibly friendly and warms to me instantly like he’s known me for years. And for someone who says that he is depressed a lot and ends all his tweets with a sad face, he is surprisingly good humoured and easy going. He’s somewhat paranoid about his true identity being revealed, and asks me not to take photos of his face or disclose details about him, a common strain that I find in other graffiti artists I’ve met.

Just get him talking about his graffiti and he loses the paranoia and talks animatedly.

‘It’s like cocaine to me,’ he says. ‘When you can only do a small amount of this substance or else you overdose, so you keep increasing the dose inch by inch until you slowly reach the point if you took one more dose; you’re done. And then you go into rehab and you get healed, and you leave so that you go back to taking small doses of cocaine. That’s how I see graffiti. The point is you make art, and then it gets removed, so you make more.’

‘It doesn’t matter to me if the graffiti gets ruined or painted over, ‘ he adds. ‘The point is that the art is made, then it is seen, then it is destroyed and painted over, then it is made all over again. ‘

He came up with the sad panda persona because that was his nickname in school, due to his size and his melancholic demeanour.

‘There was not a single wall or desk in school that I hadn’t drawn a panda all over,’ he laughs. ‘Technique comes with practice. If I showed you my first graffiti piece, it should be torn apart now. ‘

His neighbourhood of Masaken Sheraton is his playground, his turf where he can paint freely to little if any reproach. We drive through the winding streets, as I spot a pair of eyes peeking from a lamppost, a Baradei head on a telephone box, Suzanne Mubarak, Safwat Sherif and Zakareya Azmy on electricity boxes. And of course, the proverbial panda shape everywhere.

‘You know, the day after I made the Suzanne Mubarak poster, she got arrested,’ he giggles, ‘As if my little poster in Masaken Sheraton brought Mama Suzanne down.’

He doesn’t like his art to be pigeon-holed or politicized, even if it is political.

‘Someone wrote about my graffiti and analysed it as the political panda. What is a political panda? How can a panda be political?!’

He prefers to focus on the comedic element of his work, and avoids work that spells out its message.

‘The concept is ‘this art is mine.’ That’s how I see it. I want to make a statement that could be interpreted as political, but I don’t want to have force my message down people’s throats. If I did, I’d get a microphone and roam around the streets, yelling at people till they get my point.  That’s the difference between being an activist and an artist. When Picasso painted the Spanish civil war, he made Guernica, and he painted it from his perspective. The way he saw it, not the way the war was. ‘

Hatem uses relatable local personalities in his images that the average man on the street can understand: Saad Zaghloul, Abdel Halim Hafez, the politicians, the protestors, the military; all accompanied by a small panda doodle at the bottom as his signature. One exception is Che Guevara the Salafist, an icon that not necessarily everyone in Egypt would recognize.

‘If you see Ahmed Adaweya holding a machine gun, at least the average man on the street will like it and try to figure it out.’

He adds that the Egyptian culture lacks street art sophistication, and the only posters and banners people are used to seeing are of political banners or posters for elections.

‘That’s the only background knowledge they have,’ he says. ‘So to put up posters and tell them that this is art, they will think: ‘So what? What am I supposed to do with it?’ If you paint something they don’t even understand, they won’t even take pleasure in seeing the artwork. Ahmed Adaweya I know and understand , and I will be happy to see a graffiti piece about him. Our art has to be related to us somehow. ‘

Things have changed for Hatem’s graffiti escapades since the revolution. Before he had to be careful and clandestine, and work in the dark, now he can paint on main streets in broad daylight.

‘When [people on the street] find me painting a panda, they don’t really react much, it’s not like I’m painting the mask of freedom, it’s just a panda,’ he insists.

There is no clear law criminalizing vandalism in Egypt, merely a law prohibiting destruction of public monuments and private property, as far as I know. Your maximum fine is 50LE if you actually get caught, and you may be forced to repaint the wall you just spoiled.

‘But you won’t be condemned to death for graffiti,’ he shrugs.

Safwat Sherif, Former Speaker of Parliament: Warning: Danger. On electricity box.
Baradei's face on the side of a telephone box, masaken Sheraton.
Suzanne Mubarak - Warning, Dangerous
Zakaria Azmy, Warning: Danger. Interestingly, his face got carefully painted over while Suzanne's survived
Gamal Mubarak- Warning: Danger. Sighted under Merghani Bridge in mid-June, the face was scratched off one week later.
Wrestler with Abdel Halim Hafez face, dont know if the scratches were intentional or if someone tried to tear the poster off
Saad Zaghloul as Abo Trika, with the ever-present Panda face signature below
Libyan Tyrant Muammar Gadafi gets the McDonalds treatment, 'Leave Ali' the woman's sign reads. Located right across from McDonalds Merghani.
One of his first posters to go up under Merghani Bridge, this piece dates back to around the January 25 revolution. He's surprised it lasted that long.

Cairo Street Art After the Revolution: Zamalek

Boy with a Paintbucket stencil, on intersection between Merashly and Taha Hussein.

It’s not that street art never existed in Cairo before January 25th; it’s just that it never breathed this vibrantly before. There’s something raw, quick, witty and unpredictable about street art that gives an identity to the city; be it New York City, Barcelona, London or Cairo now.

Continue reading Cairo Street Art After the Revolution: Zamalek