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August 26, 2013

Egypt Turmoil Inspires New Art

by Heather Murdock

On an island in the Nile, surrounded by the tumultuous city of Cairo, award-winning artist Mohamed Abla has been commenting on Egyptian politics for decades, he adds, politics have transformed the art.
 
This little boat is attached to a chain across a small waterway-part of the Nile River in Cairo.  It carries passengers back and forth across from the mainland to the island of Qorsaia for less than 15 cents per passenger.
 
A few minutes later, passengers get off the boat and the quiet farms of Qorsaia are both in the center of the city and worlds away.  
 
Artist Mohamed Abla has a house on the island, where he creates artwork that has been shown across Europe and America, in Cairo.  
 
In recent years, he said his art, like many other elements of Egyptian culture, has been focused on politics and the struggle to create a free, productive society out of the current chaos.
 
“I hope that we are going to develop our own democracy.  Our own I idea," he said. "An Egyptian way of doing democracy.”

In June, Abla stood with protesters demanding the fall of the government, then led by the Muslim Brotherhood, which he says tried to squash free expression.
 
But, he said, wholesale arrests of members will only escalate tensions that have left as many as 1,000 dead in recent weeks.  

Most died in battles as security forces attacked sit-ins, and dispersed rallies at gunpoint.

“Now part of the Egyptian society has been discussing that we are not going to get rid of Muslim Brothers, all.  We have to accept that there are young Muslim Brothers and some people that were not part of the violence,” Abla explaioned.

Military rule will also not stick, he says, because since the uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in 2011, mass protests have become a part of Egyptian culture.
 
“I remember after the 18 days of 2011 the square was empty and I felt very lonely," Abla stated. "Many people they missed this atmosphere.”

Before the 18 days of protest that lead to Mubarak’s fall, he said, Egyptian art reflected local traditions and style.  Nowadays in Egypt, he said, art is less timely and more about shaping society.
 
“This changed the arts very much.  The people who used to make arts in a usual traditional [way]-now they do nothing because it is over now.  Now is the time of art that moves the people," Abla said. "Art that is reflective of the situation.”

In his most recent pieces, Abla documents rallies in Tahrir Square over the past two and a half years.  
 
In several pieces, pictures of protesters and soldiers are hung on strings in rows, rather than pasted like in a traditional collage to reflect what he says is the irony in a common expression: “Don’t hang your dirty laundry.”  Free expression, he says, can literally mean revealing a nations’ “dirt” and it is part of the path to freedom.