It’s a battle, being a woman in an Arab country, but perhaps the dire conditions makes us fighters. Since January 25, so many foreign reporters have waxed on about the awakening of Arab women in the Arab Spring; and how the revolutions liberated us/made us wake up and smell the coffee/made us throw off our headscarves and run happily through the meadows.
If this post comes across as offensive, arrogant or downright nasty to anyone, I apologise in advance; I literally woke up on the wrong side of bed and pulled a shoulder, so I’m cranky; plus this matter has been on my mind for several months now.
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.
Graffiti is not meant to be permanent; but it is meant to produce a reaction, even if that reaction means removing it because it’s offensive, or an eyesore. However, when you’re a Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo that teaches art, it’s a little strange that you remove the post-jan25 graffiti your students and friends have made on your walls, no?
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.
If you take graffiti off a street wall and put it inside a confined space, is it still graffiti? Does street art maintain its value when you remove the noise, the faces, and the life of the streets and put it on a safe wall?
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.
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
I think I prefer the streets of Cairo to its people. After the hours of fuming traffic and deafening horns, hostile faces watching and asking questions, I’m finally left in peace after midnight, standing on an empty side street under the orange lamplight, photographing new pieces of graffiti. Continue reading New Graffiti in Cairo – Nighttime Stalking
‘Stop taking photographs of this, go to a museum,’ he mutters as he walks past me.
I’m standing in front of the American University in Cairo’s library wall, photographing a graffiti piece depicting video game characters Ryu and Mr. Bison, the latter wearing a Tantawi face that has been neatly slashed with red paint.
‘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.
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.