Army’s walls become venues for revolutionary art

Ammar Abo Bakr paints graffiti on AUC Library wall on Mohamed Mahmoud Street
As army’s separation walls come down, two young artists paint graffiti on the downtown street that until recently was considered the revolution’s frontline [Published in Ahram Online]
Graffiti, or street art, isn’t something most people see being made, but rather something they simply pass by on their way from place to place. But seeing the artist do his work, and seeing the street react to it – be it positively or negatively – may be even more interesting than the artwork itself.

For three days starting Saturday, 25 February, Luxor artists Ammar Abo Bakr and Alaa Awad painted the wall of the American University in Cairo (AUC)’s old library, which lies in the same spot that had only a few weeks ago hosted the infamous Mohamed Mahmoud Street wall, which the army erected following six days of street battles that left 41 dead and over 1000 injured.

Following the clashes, protesters pulled down the wall, leading to its ultimate removal.

“We’re painting in liberated territory,” Abo Bakr told Ahram Online as he painted verses of the Quran next to a massive portrait of slain Al-Azhar sheikh Emad Effat, whose face has become a symbol of martyrdom.

“We chose to write this verse of the Quran, which has a beautiful meaning,” he said. “Also, since Egypt’s new parliament is dominated by Islamists, we thought we should speak their language.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, along with Salafist parties, dominates Egypt’s newly elected national assembly. Most revolutionaries are disappointed that these new parliamentary forces are working towards their own agendas rather than towards the realisation of revolutionary goals.

“Erecting walls is Israeli-style behaviour,” Abo Bakr said, referring to the seven concrete walls built in the area by the military between November and February. “We were here painting during the most recent clashes with the army.”

Indeed, they were. Abo Bakr spent four days drawing a mural of the martyrs of Port Said on the wall of AUC’s main campus, across the street from where he now paints. The murals featured framed portraits of the victims of the 1 February football violence, many of them sporting angels’ wings.

Abo Bakr painted while volunteers frequently came to help him, making the mural a collaborative effort to commemorate the tragedy’s young victims.

Along with the paintings of the Port Said martyrs, one can also find pharonic-inspired graffiti covering the same wall. The paintings were designed by Awad, who is currently studying art in Luxor and who lives in Gurna, an area rich in pharonic culture and history.

“Egyptian heritage is the source of thought,” Awad told Ahram Online. “It’s the first thoroughly recorded history of humanity and of sciences and the arts.”

He went on to explain that ancient Egyptian history had been recorded by artists, architects and sculptors, pointing out that the idea of painting on walls was not new to Egyptians – as it had been done for thousands of years.

Awad’s artwork includes a painting of a pharonic-style funeral – yet it is one pregnant with new meaning. “I wanted to depict that connection between the situation of the martyr and his accent to the heavens,” he said.

One of his other paintings portrays ancient Egyptian women in commemoration of the participation of women in Egypt’s revolution last year.

Awad also expressed concern regarding the role of women in the coming period, due to the likelihood of Islamist rule. “The role of women in ruling, providing security and participating in everyday life has been embedded in our history for thousands of years,” he said.

Another painting represents a veiled criticism of Egypt’s judicial system and the ongoing trial of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and former regime officials.

“We paint because talk is dead,” Abo Bakr said. “Talking doesn’t work anymore because people in charge create fake narratives to shift public discourse.”

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