Art and the revolution

Print edition : January 25, 2013

Caricatures of President Mohamed Morsy and his predecessor Hosni Mubarak on the wall of the presidential palace. Photo: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS

WITH copious reserves of creativity at their command, Egypt’s young artists, fired by the revolution, are turning canvas, street walls and the digital media into platforms for riveting social commentary. Over the past two years, Egyptian artists have not only captured the extraordinary turbulence that their countrymen have been experiencing, but also amplified revolutionary impulses through some truly stunning and meaningful visuals.

Within earshot of the din in Tahrir Square, Cairo’s iconic landmark, where protesters put their lives on the line against the Hosni Mubarak regime, the famous artist Ganzeer, the pseudonym for Mohamad Fahmy, painted furiously on the campus walls of the nearby American University of Cairo. An inspirational figure, Ganzeer drew a legion of artists, including El-Teneen, Sad Panda and Keizer (the pseudonym of an anonymous artist) to turn street art into a profoundly powerful form of protest. The use of graffiti in the public space became one of the hallmarks of the Egyptian revolution.

Taking the spirit of protest to more formal spaces, Ganzeer’s collection of paintings, titled “The virus is spreading”, was a show-stopper at Cairo’s Safarkhan gallery in September. The revolution has also grabbed the imagination of other renowned Egyptian painters, including George Baghoury, whose canvas “The battle of the camel” used the cubist-expressionist style to capture a turning point in the uprising that brought down Mubarak. Unimpressed by traditional platforms, Egypt’s digital age artists have discovered in the social media a perfect form of self-expression. Among them is Mohamed Abla. Abla’s Facebook exhibition, titled “Wolves”, is a scathing attack on the Egyptian military. The collection, in which Abla reworked photographs, slammed the army for killing in December 2011 thirteen protesters who had assembled when a Cabinet meeting was under way. A website, Ahram Online, quotes Abla as saying that the future of art belongs to the online platform. A group of young artists have also used videos to mount an exhibition called “Supermarket”, which is a scathing indictment of the consumerist culture.

Others, such as Marwa Adel, are working overtime to expose the gender bias in contemporary Egypt, underscoring the major social transition that the country is experiencing, steered by the generation-next.

Atul Aneja

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