In most cities around the world, tagging walls is a popular activity for the young, and murals lining school yards are common. But in Egypt, where speaking out against the authorities was a punishable offense until recently, Cairene art has been almost entirely devoid of any political or provocative messages. Since the uprising, though, revolutionary-themed art has sprung up in the neighborhoods surrounding Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests.
Shortly after Mubarak’s mid-February exit from office, a group of creatively minded, politically charged youth set out with hand-drawn stencils, a few cans of paint, and some brushes. They began to paint a memorial to Seif Allah Mostafa, a young man who was killed during the revolution. The group of artists attracted the attention of nearby shop owners and neighborhood residents, who might have ignored or condemned the group only a month earlier. But this time, the residents stopped to talk with the artists and offer help. The shop owners brought ladders and chairs. Across the street from the scene sat tanks, parked outside the High Court. But when police officers walked by the artists, they didn’t—couldn’t—say a word. And the artists felt no trepidation. They, like all Egyptians, were liberated.
Practically everywhere you go now in Cairo, street art lines building walls. The art ranges from portraits of the revolution’s martyrs and scenes of a harmonious Egypt, to jokes and slogans against the former regime and of course the simple, yet powerful reminder, “January 25.” Cairo’s streets have become a gallery and the community has awakened to a new form of artistic expression.
Not all of the street art is well received, however. A mural of a martyr named Islam Raafat, in central Cairo’s Bab el Louq neighborhood has been painted over twice. Not everyone is ready for this abrupt shift in artistic expression, and it will take Egypt some time to adjust its ways. The new Supreme Council of the Armed Forces rule is criticized for including too many of the old regime’s faces and tactics. A number of the revolution’s more vocal activists have been tried under military court. Now however, people are writing, singing and painting about it. While the upcoming months will continue to prove difficult for Egypt, Cairenes are embracing these creative outlets to newly express themselves politically.
All images courtesy Hannah Cooper.