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Street Art Continues to Play a Key Role in the Egyptian Uprisings

July 21, 2011

New street art in Tahrir Square. Photo: Al Masry Al Youm.

Graffiti has been as central to the Egyptian uprisings as social media. There are many reasons for this.

  • Globally, graffiti and street art generally have been a revolutionary art form. In places where individuals own the buildings, street art reclaims it in the name of the people, symbolically asking the question, “Why should private persons control the appearance of public space?” In places where the buildings, streets and sidewalks are controlled by the state, street art questions the extent to which they actually operate in the name of the people.
  • Second, in Islam, a common interpretation of the second commandment requires that no representation of God’s creation is appropriate in art. Word-based art forms (called khatalyid I believe) have long been regarded as one of the highest art forms.
  • Third, there is a longstanding Arabic tradition of verbal poetics–both chanted and written–in revolutionary activity in the Arabic world.

Such work is being archived, and analyzed by art critics.

An article in Al Masry Al Youm July 17 by Youssef Tadros describes the work of graffiti and street artists during the current gatherings in Tahrir.

About a dozen artists were hard at work on Wednesday evening, painting a 100-square-meter section of asphalt nearby the KFC at Tahrir Square. From 7:00 to 10:00 that night, a crowd watched closely from just outside the tape-delineated boundaries of the painters’ “canvas”.

The finished product was a beautiful, vividly colored medley of revolutionary graffiti, centered on a large representation of a dove being stabbed by a giant, bloody knife. It’s expected to be a central feature of Tahrir Square society while the sit-ins last, showing the world that “the people at Tahrir Square are peaceful artists and well-cultured people, not thugs,” according to Mostafa al-Banna, one of the project’s organizers.

The project is the work of a group of artists formed during the Jan 25th occupation of Tahrir, calling itself “The Young Artist Coalition.” They have been engaged in street art throughout Cairo since the uprising.

Tadros writes:

Onlooker Ahmed Abdel Ghany optimistically asserted that during the time of repression, “the good and bad alike were repressed. With our new freedom of self-expression, you’ll find now it’s mostly good things that come out, and this is because we are naturally a good people.

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