Street Art in Cairo

Curator: Lindsay Ballant
date: March 30, 2012
Categories: Illustration
“Tank vs boy on bike” in progress (Artist: Ganzeer)

Art is always on the front lines of a revolution, and the Arab Spring is no different. When we in our industry talk of creative briefs, visual solutions and the like, what truly inspires me is art—murals, symbols, icons, graphics, graffiti, posters—made out of expression and necessity. Between the hip-hop music which has been credited with helping to oust dictators in Tunisia and Senegal, and the protest art that has been springing up in ways it never could under the old regimes, the voice of the people truly lies in the expressions of their artists.

Egypt, in particular, has had the most abundant (and probably most documented) street art scene among these countries. Throughout Cairo you’ll see murals and stencil art with the faces of activists who’ve been detained or killed, distorted images of former president Hosni Mubarak and members of his regime, and slogans of the resistance written in arabic—“Freedom Must Come,”, “Statement Nr.1 from the People to SCAF: LEAVE,” “The Revolution of the Grandsons will Bring Back the Glory.”

Three Cairo artists in particular whose work I started following were Mohamed Fahmy, aka Ganzeer, Keizer and El Teneen. Fahmy (Ganzeer) is a graphic designer by training—he’s created typefaces, branding identities, etc.—but he’s now most known for his murals showing images of resistance—most notably, his “Tank vs boy on bike”—stencil art, and of martyrs killed in the struggle. He planned to paint a mural for each of the people killed during the 18 days of revolt that began in January 2011, quite an endeavor as the number is close to 850 people.

Keizer is arguably the more traditional street artist of the three. His stencil art most closely echoes the work of Banksy and Shepard Fairey, though adding his own subversive humor and borrowing imagery from their already borrowed imagery, or sampling from the samplers.

El Teneen comes from a more fine art background, but from an interview he explains how his pivot into street artist was an obvious choice:

It all started on 26 January, when I was at a protest. I thought that even if the revolution didn’t succeed, there should be traces of it left for people to see. I never did any street art before, and stencil was a good compromise because it was quick and easy. I started with a picture of Mubarak, which was great fun.

It became a new way to express myself. Before, the internet was the only place where we could honestly converse. On the street, we simply couldn’t talk freely, especially not about Mubarak. Through street art, freedom of expression moved from virtual space to the real world.

A stencil from Keizer seems most emblematic of these brave and inspiring artists: “The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get their hands dirty.”

“Tank vs boy on bike” final (Artist: Ganzeer)

Martyr Mural of Islam Raafat, 18 yrs old, run over by microbus during protest on Jan 28 (Artist: Ganzeer)

Street art (Artist: Keizer)

Street art (Artist: Keizer)

“Chess game” (Artist: El Teneen)

“The Revolution of the grandsons will bring back the glory” (Artist: Anonymous)

“Revolution” (Artist: Anonymous)

This is really only the tip of the iceberg. A blog called Suzeinthecity is the best resource to see all that’s going in Cairo. There’s been some great articles written here and here. Also, in Libya, photographer Ben Lowy documented a series of caricatures of the late Muammar Gaddafi (a tyrant who so easily lended himself to be caricatured) while in Benghazi, done by various artists, one more fantastical and evil then the next. 

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