Graffiti. Political art in its purest, most unadulterated form. The very act of illicitly placing paint on public and private property is in of itself a critique of the political system – an expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo. But as spray-strokes of paint aggregate to form a picture, emotions are channeled into a single coherent message of dissent. When messages are conveyed systemically via print media and radio/television airwaves the targeted audience choses whether or not to receive them. (Reading newspapers, listening to the radio and watching TV require initiative from the audience.) Graffiti, however, imposes its message on the audience like a large, colorful billboard – albeit a billboard that is not easily taken down. (Images must be painted over or defaced, both of which require a fair bit of effort.)
Prior to the revolution, although representing a means to counter state censorship over print and audio media, graffiti works were rare. As the suns rays faded beyond the western horizon and darkness descended, street artists would slip out in group of three – two to paint the message and one to watch for state security services.
Today mobilized by the January 25 Revolution, a growing community of liberal street artists is taking advantage of increased freedom of expression to draft pictorial and verbal reminders of the ongoing revolution and its demands. As a result, much of downtown Cairo is covered in works of graffiti. Near Tahrir Square, buildings are adorned with stencils advertising the latest protest and hastily sprayed messages demanding that abdication of the Supreme Council on the Armed Forces.
Under Zamalek’s bridges, stencils proclaim blunt political messages and depict the faces of the revolution’s martyrs while murals provide painful depictions of the status quo.
Graffiti even found its way into mainstream modern art thanks to a two week long exhibition at Townhouse Art Gallery – much to the chagrin of some of the graffiti artists.
That being said, not all buildings are canvass awaiting a message of liberal political dissent. During the July sit-in, street artists plied their trade on the Mugamma` (the imposing building containing the bureaucratic pen pushers that symbolizes the inefficiency and corruption of the Mubarak era) decorating the structure with a myriad of provocative images.
However, the above images and countless others have been painted over. With the Egyptian state renewing its crackdown on freedom of speech in print and satellite media, it has become painfully obvious that the basic freedoms Egyptians have fought for in their revolution have yet to be achieved. Until they are, street artists will continue cut-out their stencils, shaking their spray cans, and waiting for darkness to descend…