News / Middle East

Graffiti Becomes Political Weapon on Cairo Streets

Sebastian Meyer
Since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, Cairo’s exterior structures have become its canvas. On the third anniversary of that Egyptian Revolution, graffiti has exploded across the country, with Egyptian artists using their city’s walls to express everything from calls to revolution to outrage over sexual harassment.

Mohammad Mahmoud Street is a showcase of Egyptian street art. Politics. Social justice. Mourning. This is where Egyptian artists come to speak their minds.

The artist Ganzeer has painted some of the most iconic artworks of the revolution, including one on Mohammad Mahmoud. "You have these skulls and, in the midst of the skulls, you have one of the protest signs that was freedom, social justice, right there and a pile of skulls, and who’s responsible? Just a soldier, you know. It’s not Mubarak, it’s not the officer, ranks and whatever; it’s not the people who are making the decisions. It’s just a soldier following orders," he said.

Political battlefield

Over the years, the city’s walls have become a political battlefield where the artists are the soldiers.

In 2011, Ganzeer painted a tank pointing its cannon at a lone boy delivering bread on a bicycle.
 
After dozens of protesters were run over by tanks, a new addition was made to Ganzeer’s piece. But a pro-military group, unhappy with this portrayal, erased the dead and added Egyptian flags to the hands of the protesters. Anti-military artists returned fire by adding a military monster eating a protester.

Not all graffiti has been political. A group called the Mona Lisa Brigades works on issues of social justice in the impoverished neighborhood of Arda Lowa.

Drawing attention

Artist Ismail Mohammed said, "The goal of the project is to take photos of the children and write their dreams and write their names. So when the children are going round the street and seeing their photos in the street, when they are going to school and coming back from school... they are proud of what they want to be and proud of the place."

Mia Grondahl, a Swedish journalist and author of Revolution Graffiti - Street Art of the New Egypt, said most street art is aimed at getting attention in downtown Cairo, not at engaging the country’s poor.

"What the Mona Lisa Brigades are doing is, actually they are bringing up these people to the walls. Lifting them up. Showing them. Here they are. These are the people. Look at them. Take care of them. Listen to them. Hear them out. I would say that that is really revolutionary," said Grondahl.

Mira Shahada concentrates on issues of sexual harassment, but she feels her pieces have done little to change things. "The fight that’s in everyone is still there. Like it hasn’t changed. The thing that I believe we should be fighting for hasn’t changed. It’s about being uncompromising. And, if you’re an uncompromising type, these are difficult times to live through."

With the Egyptian military back in power, her fellow artist, Ganzeer, feels similarly.

"It’s kind of gone full circle. I could do the tank versus biker now and it would totally apply," he said. "Even the piece I did in Mohammad Mahmoud with the soldier and the skulls is actually based on a poster I designed back in 2011...So in a way things have changed, deceivingly changed. You think they change, but actually you’re back to square one again."

Photos by Mia Grondahl/'Revolution Graffiti'

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Audio Top 5 Songs for Week Ending May 23

This week's lineup can be summed up like this: 'It's The Same Old Song' - but they're great songs - featuring Walk The Moon, The Weeknd, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmakingi
X
Bernard Shusman
May 24, 2015 2:55 PM
According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.
Video

Video Effort Underway to Limit Damage from California Oil Spill

Cleanup crews are working around the clock to remove oil from the waters off the coastal city of Santa Barbara, in California. About 380,000 liters of oil may have leaked out before a rupture in an onshore, underground pipeline was discovered Tuesday. The environmental disaster hit the popular West Coast resort area before the Memorial Day weekend. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports investigators have yet to determine what caused the incident.

VOA Blogs