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Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring


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The wave of uprisings known as the Arab Spring that swept over the Middle East and North Africa from December 2010 to early 2013 left its imprint on political and social life in the countries concerned. This ephemeral moment also marked a change in various forms of artistic expression. Street art, graffiti, and calligraffiti are among the most striking art forms of this short period. Artists recorded and commented on events and developments in the political situation. They drew upon their people’s cultural memory to impart their messages and expressed dissension, civil disobedience, and resistance by combining images and scripts. This article is about the materiality of visual art and the translation of political contestation into street art, graffiti, and calligraffiti in Egypt. It probes the ways slogans were visualised, drawn, and inscribed on the walls of the urban space in Cairo and then disseminated on the internet and social media. Translation relates here to transcultural contacts and the interplay between texts, images, and contexts from the vantage point of intermediality.
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53Transcultural Studies 2016.2
Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and
the Egyptian Arab Spring
Saphinaz-Amal Naguib, University of Oslo
“…with a box of colours costing three pounds, you draw an
idea, you paint a revolution…”1
The wave of uprisings that swept over the Middle East and North Africa from
December 2010 to early 2013, known as the “Arab Spring,” was what Aleida
Assmann denes as an “impact event” (Assmann 2015, 44–46). I consider it a
kairos, a eeting opportune moment where time and action meet and fates may
be changed. It was a promising moment, in which governments were toppled
and hopes for changes were high. Not only did the Arab Spring leave its imprint
on political and social life in the countries concerned, but it also marked
a change in various forms of artistic expression (Hamamsy and Soliman 2013b,
12–13; 2013c, 252–254; Jondot 2013). Street art, grafti, and calligrafti are
perhaps the most striking forms of art from this short period. Artists used to
record and comment on events and developments in the political situation.
They drew upon their people’s cultural memory to impart their messages and
express dissent, civil disobedience, and resistance by combining images and
scripts. Poetry and political songs that previously had mostly been known to
underground groups and intellectual elites were widely circulated. Verses from
the Tunisian poet Abul Qasim al Shabbi (1909–1934) and the Egyptian poets
Fouad Negm (1929–2013) and Abdel Rahman al-Abnudi (1938–2015) were
used as slogans and chanted all over the region (Nicoarea 2015; Sanders IV
and Visonà 2012; Wahdan 2014). Famous quotes from national political and
cultural gures were also used, among them Mustafa Kamel’s (1874–1908)
“If I weren’t already an Egyptian, I would want to be one” (lau lam akun
miryan la aradtu an akna miryan); Saad Zaghloul’s (1859–1927) “It’s
useless” (mafsh fayda); President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s statement that “the
people are the leader and the teacher” (al shaʽb huwa al qaʾid wal muʽallim);
and the song “Patience Has Its Limits” (lil sabr hudd), by the famous singer
1 Facebook page Grafti in Egypt, posted 8. April 2015. …‘albat alwān bi talata guinih tirsim
kra wa tirsim thawra…. The transliteration from Arabic follows the guidelines given by The Library
of Congress AIA-LC Romanization Tables,
[Accessed on 5. August 2016].
doi: 10.17885/heiup.ts.2016.2.23590cbn
54 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
Umm Kulthum (1904–1975). These slogans were visualised and written on
buildings in many cities and circulated worldwide thanks to a plethora of
Internet platforms and social media.
The term “street art,” also referred to as “urban art” and “the art of the
subaltern and of political protest,” is used in this essay more generically to
encompass various forms of visual arts created in public spaces, grafti and
calligrafti among them (Abdulaziz 2015; Arnoldi 2015; Zoghbi and Karl
2012). Before the events of January 2011 in Egypt, they were most often found
in contained settings and used mainly for advertising purposes (gure 1), or, as
the murals on the walls of houses in Luxor and Nubia show, to narrate the hajj,
or pilgrimage to Mecca (Dawson 2003; Naguib 2011; Parker and Neal 2009).
In Egypt, street art has its well-known and established artists and writers. Most
have a formal education from state-funded academies of ne arts, universities,
or university colleges. Many are members of artists’ associations. There are
also autodidact artists who try to make a name for themselves in the streets,
and others who choose to remain anonymous. The novelty of the period that
concerns us here is the obvious invasion of the public space, the political and
social engagement, the deant satire and critique of the regime that emanates
Fig. 1: Advertising a chicken farm in Fayoum, 1976. Fayoum.
55Transcultural Studies 2016.2
from the creations on the walls of urban spaces. Much has been written about
the street art and grafti of the “Egyptian Revolution” during the last ve
years; books like Revolution Grafti: Street Art of the New Egypt and Walls
of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution (Gröndahl 2012; Hamdy
and Karl 2014), and scholarly and journalistic articles have documented and
analysed the unexpected blossoming of this kind of art, its forms, and contents.
I will not review all these publications in the limited space of this essay.
Sufce it to say that they mostly point to the novelty of the movement and
its immediate political and social repercussions. My own approach is situated
within cultural history; I address questions of material culture, memory, and
heritage studies in the contemporary Middle East, and more specically,
Egypt (Buchli and Lucas 2001; Gonzales 2008, 2014; Naguib and Rogan
2011; Naguib 2015; Olsen 2003; 2010; Tilley 2006).
I consider the ways an intangible oral heritage of popular sayings and poetry
is very briey transformed into concrete, powerful, politically laden images
on the walls of urban public spaces and and how this heritage reects on the
afterlives of these images. I ask whether, in time, the same images that have
been erased from the walls and now circulate on various Internet platforms
will be included as part of the intangible heritage of Egypt. To do this, I
concentrate on the materiality of visual art and the translation of political
contestation into street art, grafti, and calligrafti in Egypt. I delve into the
ways slogans were visualised, drawn, and inscribed on the walls of the urban
space in Cairo and then disseminated on various Internet platforms and social
media between January 2011 and June 2015. In my use of the term, materiality
refers to the “thingness” of things (Olsen 2003), the physical properties of
street art, grafti, and calligrafti. Materiality is a medium through which the
meanings and affective relationships with people unfold (Ingold 2007, 9–14;
Olsen 2003; 2010; Naguib and Rogan 2011; Tilley 2006, 61; 2007). As for
translation, it is, according to Peter Burke, a social practice with a focus on
context, and as such relates primarily to cultural contacts and exchanges (Burke
2009, 56–58). Moreover, translation indicates an intersemiotic perspective
that entails adaptations and connections between various kinds and forms of
cultural expressions, and conveys the interplay between texts, images, and
contexts from the vantage point of intermediality (Colla 2012). In studying
the rebellious street art of the Arab Spring in Egypt, using translation as an
analytic approach offers a means of “shaping the space of protest,” according
to Mona Baker, from a variety of theoretical perspectives and elds of research
(Baker 2016b, 2).
Taking my lead from Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts of chronotope, where time
and space merge, and of dialogism, where different forms of communication
56 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
echo each other in what could be described as “grafti of anger,” I rst
discuss the relevance of translation as an analytical approach when dealing
with pictorial source material like street art, grafti, and calligrafti (Bakhtin
1981). I then go on to offer a general outline of street art and grafti and probe
its sudden outburst in the urban landscape of Egypt. I limit my analysis to the
visualization of four slogans that, in my view, sum up different moments and
moods of the uprisings during the period from January 2011 to December
2013.2 These moments move from hope and calls for change in governance,
social and political structures, to a loud, accusatory cry of protest, to distrust,
and nally to disenchantment. In the last section of this essay, I reect on the
afterlife of the street art, grafti, and calligrafti of the Arab Spring, or rather,
Egyptian Spring, and their potential transformation into mnemotopoi: sites
of collective memory that gradually become part of the intangible cultural
heritage of Egypt’s recent past.
Translation, transculturality, and the medium
Translation is not conned to linguistic and literary studies. It has become one
of those blurred nomadic concepts or travelling concepts that move between
disciplines and scholars, and change value and connotations during their
peregrinations. The dynamics of movement provide fruitful grounds for inter-
and cross-disciplinary study and foster innovation and academic renewal (Bal
2002; Darbelley 2012; Stenghers 1987). At its core, translation combines the
ideas of transfer and mediation. It relates to a contextual process of decoding
and recoding. It is an act of creation that denotes a search for equivalence rather
than sameness. In his seminal essay, On Linguistic Aspects of Translation,
Roman Jakobson distinguished three main types of linguistic translation.
The rst is an intralingual translation based on rewording. The second is an
interlingual translation, or translation proper, between different languages.
The third type of translation is the intersemiotic type, or transmutation.
It rests on the interpretation of the message that is being conveyed and
various approaches for studying multimedial and multimodal transfers.
Thus, translation between different forms of communication may be seen in
terms of intermedial relationships between words, images, music, and dance
(Jakobson [1959] 2000, 2). Eugene Nida rened Jakobson’s classication and
proposed four complementary perspectives to the study of translation (Nida
1991). These are the philological perspective, the linguistic perspective,
2 During this period, President Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign on February 11, 2011, and
was replaced by an interim government led by a military ofcer, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein
Tantawi. The elections of June 30, 2012, placed Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, at the
head of the government. After a year in power, he was ousted on July 3, 2013, and another military
ofcer, General Abdel Fattah el Sissi, took over as president.
57Transcultural Studies 2016.2
and—more relevant for the study of street art, grafti, and calligrafti—
the communicative and sociosemiotic perspectives. As the collections of
articles gathered in Translating Egypt’s Revolution: The Language of Tahrir
(Mehrez 2012) and Translating Dissent: Voices from and with the Egyptian
Revolution (Baker 2016a) demonstrate, the sociosemiotic perspectives allow
for interdisciplinary approaches and a greater attention to the interaction
between texts, various cultural and artistic expressions, and their contexts.
For street art, grafti, and calligrafti artists during Egypt’s Arab Spring,
translation signied a transposition of ideas, hopes, and political activism into
images and writings. The process sheds light on what Mona Baker describes
as “the dynamics and complexities of a whole range of translational practices
in protest movements” (Baker 2016b, 3), and relies on the intentionality of
the artists and their agency. Seen from this vantage point, translation entails
interpretation, creative transposition from one mode of expression to another
and communication with a broad and diverse audience. It rests on nding the
appropriate locations, choosing the surfaces on which artists will produce their
works, and deciding on the genre, style, shape, and colours of their creations.
But translation does not stop here. It forms a dialogic space, a contact zone
that opens onto the different paths that the reception of the pieces produced
and their dissemination generates; that is, onto their resonance among people
and how their echoes linger in the mind.
A major attribute of translation is going beyond national and cultural
boundaries and providing fruitful grounds for transcultural inspiration and
borrowings. Fernando Ortiz coined the term “transculturation” to explicate
“different phases of the process of transition from one culture to another” (Ortiz
[1947] 1995, 102–103). Thus, “transculturation,” and afliated terms such as
“transcultural” and “transculturality” entail the convergence and mixing of
various cultural inuences. The term implies a measure of cross-fertilization
and choice in what to adopt and what to reject. Applied to street art and grafti,
the notion of transculturality denotes alternative ways of perceiving and seeing
hybridity and the mixing of cultural elements that were separate (Mirzoeff
1999, 131). It draws attention to the wide-ranging sources of inspiration that
are incorporated into local practices and usages. During the Egyptian Spring,
street art and grafti were important media in the artists’ aim of visualising
transculturality, which became apparent for example in the combination of
different languages and scripts, such as Arabic and Arabizi, or Arabic for the
Internet, English and its Latin alphabet, and, in some cases, ancient Egyptian
hieroglyphs (Abo Bakr 2012). The texts written in Arabizi and English, or
combining the two, were clearly intended for an international audience. Many
of the recurrent symbols and motifs that covered the walls of cities during the
Egyptian Spring are familiar to global audiences. Among them we nd, for
58 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
instance, Marwan Shahin’s adaptation of Guy Fawkes’s mask as Anonymous
wearing the nemes headdress of the pharaohs in Ancient Egypt (gure 2),
the encircled A, meaning anarchy, and the acronym ACAB (“all cops are
bastards”) (Powell 2013). Other, more elaborate pieces are, for example, a
group production picturing the gure of Joker from Batman as a puppeteer
wearing a military cap and holding the strings of puppets representing central
political gures (gure 3), a card displaying president Mohamed Morsi as the
queen of clubs,3 and artist Amr Nazeer’s Joke posters portraying President
Abdel Fattah el Sissi in the style of Shepard Fairey’s Obama (gure 4)
Street art, grafti, and calligrafti
Street art and grafti are rapidly developing arts on the international scene. In
Western countries, they are tied to hip hop culture, often with underlying social
and political messages. As mentioned above, these forms were also practiced
in the Middle East before the Arab Spring, but within accepted political
frameworks. In Egypt, they were used for advertising purposes or to decorate
the outer walls of dwellings with scenes inspired by the pilgrimage to Mecca.
The terms “street art” and “grafti” are frequently used interchangeably.
s1600/2.jpg;ti-artists.html [Accessed on 7. May 2015].
Fig. 2: Marwan Shahin, Guy Fawkes mask
Anonymous wearing the nemes headdress of
pharaohs in Ancient Egypt, 2013. Cairo.
Fig. 4: Amr Nazeer, Joke, 2013.
59Transcultural Studies 2016.2
However, the majority of Egyptian artists I interviewed considered themselves
street artists, resorting to grafti and calligrafti as one of their many modes
of expression and techniques. Accordingly, they consider street art, which is
also referred to as “urban art,” the art of the subaltern, political protest, and
one of their many modes of expression and techniques. Grafti includes a
great variety of genres and styles and mixes several graphic genres such as
calligraphy, poster art, and graphic novels (Genin 2013, 22–32). The word
“grafti” combines the notion of writing derived from the Greek, graphein, to
write, and that of incising, from the Italian sgrafare, to scratch. The term is
used in art history and archaeology to designate inscriptions and drawings that
have been added to a cave, monument, statue, or painting. Grafti has existed
since the most ancient times and several sites and monuments dating from
prehistory, pharaonic Egypt, Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire show the
passage of time through the names, words, phrases, and drawings people have
inscribed on them while visiting. Today, grafti range from simple words,
the artist’s signature or tag, or short phrases to elaborate wall paintings or
pieces. The term “calligrafti” was coined by the Dutch grafti artist Niels
Shoe Meulman and denotes the combination of traditional calligraphy, with its
strict rules and methods, with the nonconformity and openness of grafti and
Fig. 3: Mad Grafti Week (Facebook group), Joker as a puppeteer, 2012. Cairo.
60 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
its use of varied methods, mediums, and tools (Wikipedia, s.v. “Niels Shoe
Meulman”; Wikipedia, s.v. “Calligrafti”; Yoo 2010).
In his study of street art and grafti in Western Europe and the USA, Christophe
Genin gives it two sources. One is a European practice of contestation that
began in the 1950s among artists with formal academic backgrounds and
training in visual arts. Some other practitioners were non-professionals with
anarchist or communist views (Genin 2013, 118–122). The other source,
according to Genin, sprung from the civil rights movement at the end of the
1960s among North-American autodidact artists. The early 1980s witnessed
a boom of new forms of street art and grafti in different parts of the world,
including the Middle East (Zoghbi and Karl 2012).
Generally speaking, street art, and thus grafti, is a multi-sited, interactive,
and ephemeral kind of art. Walls in the urban space are its favoured surfaces.
Common methods and techniques of street art today are stencil and spray-can
art, writings, stencils, wheat pasted posters or sticker art, murals, mosaic,
street installations, paint lighting, and knitting. In Egypt, street artists favour
stencils, murals, and posters. Intentionality and performance are central
characteristics of street art. Artists appropriate the public space to convey
their messages and the streets become their exhibition space. In this way, they
communicate directly with a large and diverse public free from the restrictions
imposed by the formal world of art and governmental censorship, especially in
totalitarian regimes where freedom of expression is strictly limited. Artists in
these countries frequently resort to parody and satire as a means to circumvent
censorship and, at the same time, share their ideas and political standpoints.
Performance, spectacle, and the carnavalesque as a form of political activism
were salient elements of the “Egyptian Spring” (Mehrez 2012; Hamamsy and
Soliman 2013c, 250–257). Mona Abaza posits that the satire and irony voiced
in the grafti and murals that ourished on the streets of Cairo after January
2011 were indeed persuasive vehicles of resistance (Abaza 2013; 2016, 324).
The written texts often show great attention to the graphic properties of the
letters and a quest for aesthetics rather than legibility. Calligraphy has a unique
place in all Islamic visual arts. As the language of the Qur’an, the Arabic
writing acquired a special status and developed a variety of styles.4 However,
4 Arabic script comprises of two major stylistic groups. The rst group is the angular kuc that
is used on monuments and that branched into plain kuc and ornamental kuc. The second group
consists of cursive scripts. The classical tradition counts six major styles of cursive scripts. The most
used are the common naskhi or “copy-hand,” the nastaliq, which is originally Persian and prevails in
Iran and South Asia, and the hieratical thuluth. The latter is used mainly for ornamental purposes on
monuments and for Qur’anic inscriptions.
61Transcultural Studies 2016.2
the many political and socio-cultural changes that took place in the Middle East
and North Africa during the twentieth century did have enduring repercussions
on the visual arts. Art education followed Western patterns and criteria, and
several artists from the region were inuenced by trends in modern Western art.
One of the consequences of this shift in focus is that the Arabic script somehow
lost its aura of sacredness and calligraphy was demoted from the status of art to
that of traditional craft (Shabout 2007, 70–71). The situation began to change
with the independence movements of the 1950s. During the decolonization
processes in the region and later in the 1970s and 1980s, artists searching for
their roots and identity rediscovered the Arabic script and calligraphy. They
used them in new ways, not only as a symbol of authenticity, identity, and
nationalism, but as a novel genre of Arab/Islamic modern art.5 Calligraphic
modernism, to use Iftikhar Dadi’s expression, leans towards abstraction and
emphasizes the forms of the script as well as the textual content. Furthermore,
modern typography and graphic arts have prompted contemporary artists,
including grafti artists, from the Middle East and North Africa to explore a
kind of freeform calligraphy, by mixing different types of scripts and mediums
and to experiment with the array of options offered by calligrafti (Zoghbi and
Karl 2012, 15–31).
Genin lists a number of features common to street art in general, and hence, to
grafti and calligrafti (Genin 2013, 123–125). A major characteristic, according
to him, is repetition. The same motif is reproduced, often with small variations
and by different people, on different backgrounds. In Egypt, texts and images
were written, painted, re-written, re-painted, and combined with other texts and
pictographs so as to craft new texts and new tableaux that echoed each other.
Visualizing political protest entails the use of visual topoi and codifying images
in such a way that they acquire symbolic properties. In time, the recurrent
image becomes, in Lina Khatib’s words, a “oating image.” A oating image
is according to her “a strong image”; one of those images that have “the ability
to originate, to multiply, and to distribute themselves” (Khatib 2013, 11–12).
Thus, oating images are copied over and over, each time with alterations here
and there to adapt them to changing contexts. Meaning is thereby continuously
renewed and actualized. The very repetitiveness of the motifs and themes
depicted contributes to the transmission and retention of the message. It helps
inscribe it more and more deeply in the political discourse of dissent and in the
minds of those at the receiving end. It is not a matter of plagiarism, but rather of
relaying and broadcasting protest. The thousand Nos of Bahia Shehab, and the
series The One Who Delegates Does Not Die, by Omar Fathy, aka Picasso, were
such oating images during the Egyptian Spring.
5 Master calligrapher and artist Samir Sayegh underlined this point in his paper, Arabic Calligraphy
and Revival, Granshan conference, The American University in Cairo, 28 October 2016. See also:
Dadi 2010, 560–571; Naguib 2015, 69–74.
62 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
The second common feature of street art and grafti is, in Genin’s view, that
they are simultaneously in situ and ex situ. They may be produced on a solid
wall or a movable surface, like the trucks and tuk tuks in South Asia and
the Middle East. They are exible, many-layered, and not contained within
the limits of a frame. Rather, they are art forms that ow over borderlines
and often glide from one context to another. A third aspect of street art and
grafti in general is their ruggedness. Usually, the surface on which the pieces
are created is not prepared or smoothed, and this gives the image an uneven
texture. Additionally, there is a sense of saturation tied to street art and grafti,
which is due to the fact that after some time, the surface is completely covered
with other images, scribblings, and tags, giving a feeling of disruption and
unruliness to the whole. A fth shared characteristic of street art and grafti,
growing from the former, is loudness; Genin calls it parasitage, in the sense of
“interference,” as is found in radio transmissions. Here, the noise is produced
by colours, motifs, additions, and scripts that criss-cross each other and disturb
the “clarity” of the picture, many emphasizing the impression of chaos that
emanates from them. In Egypt, the wall of The American University in Cairo,
along Mohamed Mahmoud Street, offered a salient example of saturation and
loudness in street art.
Ephemerality is another common attribute of street art and grafti. The
reasons for this impermanence are many. It may be due to damage caused by
people passing, or by weather and erosion. The pieces often hold subversive,
provocative, even abusive messages, prompting the building’s owners or
the local authorities to whitewash the walls at regular intervals. Thus walls
bearing murals, drawings, and texts of all kinds act as palimpsests. They
present superposed layers of writings and images that shine through the next
covering layer and, hence, are never completely wiped out. Ephemerality in art
has its appeal. Rafael Schacter observes that several artists he interviewed in
London considered the destruction of their works as a condition of the process
of creating “for the moment, for the experience, for the freedom.”6 Instead of
erasing the artists’ works, the removal may actually emancipate them (Schacter
2008, 46). Likewise, a number of Egyptian street art and grafti artists, such
as Ammar Abo Bakr and Bahia Shehab, believe that things, even works of
art, have their lifespan and are not meant to last forever.7 Nevertheless, the
pictures and messages continue to linger in people’s minds long after they
have disappeared from public space, and thus they accentuate, in my view, the
long-term resonance of the message imparted. The murals are interconnected
“ephemeral interventions,” initiated by activist artists and then reproduced
6 Italics in the original.
7 Personal communication.
63Transcultural Studies 2016.2
and disseminated through different media. The ephemerality of street art and
grafti is thus neutralised by new channels that, according to Jeff Ferrell,
“elongate” in time and space the experience of creating street art and grafti,
and offer new kinds of aesthetic durability (Ferrell 2016, xxxiv–xxxv). As
Kevin D. Murphy and Sally O’Driscoll argue, ephemeral interventions occur
in specic moments, in contexts of politically engaged art practices, and they
do have a lasting impact (Murphy and O’Driscoll 2015, 330).
Digital photography is increasingly used to document the various artists’
creations and the public’s responses. The pictures are published on the Internet
and circulated on social media. The World Wide Web has become a global,
interactive, virtual art gallery. Exhibited online the material properties of the
pieces have taken on a more immaterial quality (Carle and Huguet 2015). In
an interview with Louisiana Channel, Bahia Shehab says:
Our work gets erased very quickly on the street. That’s why TV
and the Internet are very useful tools—you can communicate
your messages in the digital sphere. That’s the game-changer
now. The government can resist you, it can try to hide what you
try to communicate, but it’s a completely different ballgame now
(Louisiana Channel 2014).
The aesthetic and economic values of street art, grafti, and calligrafti are
highly disputed. In most countries, scribbling or painting on private or public
property without the consent of the owner(s) is considered defacement, an
act of vandalism, and thus a crime. Nevertheless, some pieces have become
subject to protection and some measures for their preservation are being
tried out. In Egypt, for instance, there have been calls to save the murals
that the artist Alaa Awad created on the walls of The American University in
Cairo, but to no avail. The pieces were largely inspired by the tombs of New
Kingdom nobles on the west bank of Luxor (Hamdy and Karl 2014, 136–137;
Abaza 2016; Untitled 2013). A way of keeping street art from obliteration
is to make smaller copies and exhibit them in conventional art galleries.
Internationally renowned artists like Banksy sell posters reproducing their
murals, printed on canvas, through the internet.8 The transfer from the
walls in open urban spaces to the interior walls of homes and ofces not
only changes the texture and size of the pieces, but also their signicance.
From being accessible to all, they become private commodities and lose
their ephemerality. The copy might not be imbued with the same aura as
the original, but it keeps it from being forgotten. The afterlife of street art,
grafti, and calligrafti from the Egyptian uprisings is still uncertain. A few
8 One can buy them on
64 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
photographic exhibitions, such as the recent Fighting Walls: Street Art in
Egypt and Iran, are being arranged (Seymour 2016). There is, however, no
way of knowing at this point whether pictures of some of the pieces from
the Egyptian Spring have been downloaded, printed and framed to adorn the
walls of private homes and ofces, and what kind of connotations and value
they have acquired in the process.
As remarked above, the meaning of these artworks is tied to their
emplacement. The public space where street art, grafti, and calligrafti
are created may acquire an emblematic status in future cultural memory.
During the Arab Spring, the streets became the space of civic and cultural
manifestations. In Cairo, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off the famous Tahrir
Square, witnessed some of the most violent clashes with police and army
forces during the uprisings of 2011. Thus, the place has acquired political
meaning, and through their creations on the walls of The American University
along this street and the adjacent ones, the artists have imbued them with an
atmosphere of mutiny.
Unzipping the lips and freeing the words
The rst moment of the Arab Spring entailed what I would describe as
“unzipping the lips and liberating the words” (gure 5). A general sense
of unexpectedness and familiarity permeated the street art, grafti, and
calligrafti of the Arab Spring. Reecting on the spread of grafti in Tunisia,
Sarra Grira underlines their unforeseen dynamics (Grira 2013). In her view,
three central elements contribute to the impression of unexpectedness. The
rst is the sudden re-appropriation of the public space. This is followed
by the unforeseen engagement of artists, who, seeing themselves as the
guardians of history, record and analyse events on the walls of their cities.
The third element is political and ideological. Artists address socio-political
issues and their murals and grafti question the legitimacy of regimes,
governments, and political parties. They get responses from the onlookers,
many of whom draw or write in their own comments. According to Charles
Tripp, reclaiming public space with grafti is an act of deance against
authorities that want to assert their own unchallenged control of
such spaces, forcing those who challenge that control to risk paying
with their lives or with their freedom. The messages conveyed
by the writings on the walls, by the images and symbols, signal
alternative sources of authority, disrespect for established power
and, implicitly, its loss of control (Tripp 2013, 307).
65Transcultural Studies 2016.2
As mentioned earlier, the Arab Spring witnessed a surge of poems, songs, and
slogans that, with small variations in wording, were chanted in the streets and
inscribed on the walls of various cities across the whole region. Egypt was
no exception, and slogans were not only heard but also translated visually
on the walls of towns and cities. Elliott Colla points out that slogans are not
literary texts, but rather, part of a performance, and as such belong to what
he calls a repertoire of “contentious performance” that are all expressions of
ephemeral interventions (Colla 2012). The slogans heard in the streets and
represented on the walls during the demonstrations in Cairo between 2011
and 2013 drew on a wealth of texts that were anchored in people’s cultural
memory. They had a strong emotional resonance, that is, a power to evoke
images, memories, emotions, and meanings. According to Aleida Assmann,
the notion of resonance implies “the interaction between two separate
entities, one located in the foreground, one in the background” (Assmann
2015, 45). The elements in the foreground, or the present, are connected
to those in the background that make up cultural memory, and that, at an
opportune moment, are reactivated. In Egypt, the use of the vernacular form
of Arabic sprinkled with coarse language and references to central cultural
and political gures from the past such as Mustafa Kamel, Saad Zaghloul and
Gamal Abdel Nasser, emphasized the dimension of shared experiences that
fashions cultural memory.
Fig. 5: Freedom Painters, 2011. Nasr City, Cairo.
66 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
I will now present the various moments of the uprisings in Egypt through some
of the most widely used slogans and popular sayings and explicate how they
have, in my view, been visualized in compelling images. Apart from the works
of Bahia Shehab and Omar Fathy, who are explicit about the message they
convey, the equivalence, or rather, the translation made between the slogans
and the images is based on my own interpretation of the murals and grafti I
have selected. The artists who produced them might have chosen other texts
to explicate their pieces.
The rst slogan, al shaʽb yurd isqāt al niẓām (the people want the fall of
the regime), was heard in the early days of the uprisings. The slogan derives
from the opening lines of the poem The Will to Life (idha al shaʽb yauman
arād al hayāt), by the Tunisian poet Abul Qasim al Shabbi (1909–1934). The
slogan afrms the people’s desire for change. It was rst heard in rallies in the
streets of Tunisia and from there it travelled to Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Bahrain,
and Yemen. One of the most powerful visual translations of this slogan,
is the chessboard by an Egyptian street artist who uses the pseudonym el-
Teneen, which means “the dragon” in Arabic. The chessboard shows all the
pawns, representing the people, on one side of the board facing the line of
dignitaries. The king is toppled. The pawns are all black and the squares on
which they stand are red and white; the red probably symbolizes the blood that
has been spilled during the demonstrations (gure 6).The immediacy of this
piece derives not from narrating the development of events, but distilling the
demands of the people in a very direct way.
The second moment of the revolution is one of sharp protest and a roar: NO.
Bahia Shehab’s project, A Thousand Times No: The Visual History of Lam-alif
(laʽ waʾalf laʽ), denotes a preguration of that moment. The project resulted in
a 3m x 7m installation exhibited at the Haus der Kunst in Munich in September
2010, that is, in a time of gestation before the Arab Spring really took off.
Shehab’s project traces the history and different scripts of the Arabic letterform
Lam-Alif (pronounced laʽ, and meaning “no” in Arabic), and repeats it in a
thousand different forms to illustrate the common Arabic expression for total
refusal: “No, and a thousand no!” Shehab is an artist and art historian who
developed the graphic design program at The American University in Cairo in
2011. She explains the idea behind her installation as follows:
When you want to deny all of the stereotypes that are imposed on
you and that try to dene your role in the world. When you want to
reject almost every aspect of your reality. When you want to decline
every political reality you live under. When you want to dismiss
all of the options available to you. When you want to negate all
the accusations that go hand in hand with your identity. When you
67Transcultural Studies 2016.2
want to refuse to be an imitator or follower of the West, yet you also
refuse the regressive interpretation of your heritage. ‘A thousand
Nos’ are not enough. (Goethe Institute, n.d.).
According to Shehab, the installation thus represents a rejection of both the
conformity and the repression that often stie the Arabic speaking region and
Islamic cultures. The events that followed the uprisings in Egypt prompted
Shehab to record the memory of these days by taking her Nos to the streets
of Cairo, in the form of a series of calligrafti placed in different locations
of the city (Shehab 2014a). She added two new pieces. One visualizes Pablo
Neruda’s famous quote, “you may crush the owers, but you cannot delay the
spring,” translated into Arabic.9 The other recalls the incident of the veiled
“blue bra girl” who was stripped and beaten by the police on December 18,
2011 (Soueif 2011). In their new context of open urban space, the calligrafti
Nos reiterate, in the words of the artist, “no to military rule,” “no to a new
pharaoh,” “no to emergency law,” “no to stripping the people,” “no to
blinding heroes,” “no to burning books,” “no to violence,” “no to stealing the
revolution,” “no to barriers and walls” (Shehab 2012; Khalil 2014) (gures
7, 8, 9).The third moment of the Arab Spring in Egypt is one of distrust, of
9 Yumkinak tadhass el ward, lakina la tastali’ an tu’akhir al rabʽ; the original quote: “Podrán
cortar todas las ores, pero no podrán detener la primavera.”
Fig. 6: el-Teneen, The king is down, 2011. Cairo.
68 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
Fig. 7: Bahia Shehab, No, and a Thousand Times No, 2011. Cairo. Calligrafti.
Fig. 8: Bahia Shehab, You May Crush the Flowers, But You Cannot Delay the Spring (verse
by poet Pablo Neruda), 2011. Cairo. Calligrafti.
69Transcultural Studies 2016.2
a creeping feeling that “the more things change the more they stay the same.”
The sense of wariness is conveyed by the recurrence of the popular saying ill
kallif mā mātsh, meaning “the one who delegates does not die,” and visualized
in a series of murals by the artist Omar Fathy, also known as Picasso. The rst
murals created after President Hosni Mubarak resigned on February 11, 2011,
showed the slightly superposed half faces of the president and Field Marshal
Mohamed Tantawi, who was then leading the interim government. At the top
of the scene, a white hand holds a red pencil, and beside it, a text asserts that
“the revolution goes on” (al thawra mustamira). Beneath that is the logo of
the “Association of the artists of the revolution” (rābita fanān al thawra). The
popular saying in question is written at the bottom. The letters are painted in red,
yellow for the negative form , and green for kallif (to delegate). The lam (l)
in the word is shaped like the joined necks of Mubarak and Tantawi (gure 10).
Other pieces in the same spirit but with additional text show the same half faces
of Mubarak and Tantawi joined by the neck. Behind them, we see Amr Moussa,
the secretary of the Arab League at the time, and Ahmed Shak, who was prime
minister from January 29 to March 3, 2011. The inscription, in red and black on
the left side of the mural, reads, “I will not trust you and you will not rule over
me one more day” ( hadika amān, walla tuhkumn ym kamān) (Grafti at
Fig. 9: Bahia Shehab, The Blue Bra. On top: “No to stripping the
people.” The sole of the military boot reads: “Long live a peaceful
revolution,” 2011. Cairo. Calligrafti.
70 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
Muhammad Mahmoud Street, n.d.). The next pieces in the series depict the half
faces of Mubarak and Tantawi, still joined at the neck in the foreground. Slightly to
the back is the elected President, Mohamed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood,
almost in full face. The word lissa, meaning “still,” coloured in brown, is added a
bit higher up on the right side of the mural. Thus, the meaning is “still, the one who
delegates doesn’t die” (Grafti outside the presidential palace 2012). Another mural
portrays the artist, seen from the back, nishing a mural representing Mubarak and
Tantawi, joined at the neck, and Mohamed Badie, who was then the supreme guide
of the Muslim Brotherhood, in the background. The word bard, or “nevertheless,”
painted in yellow, precedes the slogan written beneath the portraits. On the right,
we see a police ofcer with fangs instead of teeth, brandishing a club at the artist
and holding a shield in his left hand. Six men, with Mubarak’s features, wearing
the uniforms of the security police, are standing under the portraits. The ones at
either end of the row are holding shields; the one on the left has a skull decorating
his shield, while the one on the right holds a baton. Each of the remaining four
men bears a letter on his chest. Together the letters form the acronym ACAB (All
Cops Are Bastards). The ground on which they stand is covered with red paint,
indicating that blood has been shed during the demonstrations. Beneath the scene,
a poem in vernacular Egyptian Arabic, written in grey letters, tells the beholder:
Oh! Regime you are afraid of the brush and the pen, you oppress and
step on those who have been abused.
Fig. 10: Omar Fathy aka Picasso, Illi Kalif Ma Matsh (The one who delegates doesn’t die),
(rst version), 2012. Cairo.
71Transcultural Studies 2016.2
If you were doing right, you would not be afraid of what has been
You are only able to wage war against the walls, play the strong man
against lines and colours.
But inside you are a coward, you’ll never build up what has been
destroyed.10 (gure 11).
The last piece in the series shows the half faces of Mubarak and Tantawi
joined at the neck: Morsi appears slightly in the background and behind him,
the silhouette of a face, painted black with a big white question mark in its
middle, wears a military beret (gure 12). Above, the inscription on the right
says “Down with all those who betray” (yisqut kul man khān), and above the
10 Yā niẓām khayif min fursha wa qalam/wa ẓalamt wa bitdus ‘ll itẓalam/law kunt māsh l salm/
kunt khuft mill itrassam/akhrak tuhārib al hitān/titshatar ‘ll khutt wil alwān/ lakin inta min
guwāk gabān/ʽumrak mā tibn ill ithadam. Hamdy and Karl 2014, 186.
Fig. 11: Omar Fathy aka Picasso, Illi Kalif Ma Matsh (The one who delegates doesn’t
die), with the poem “Oh! regime you are afraid of the brush and the pen,” 2012. Cairo.
72 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
Fig. 12: Omar Fathy aka Picasso, Illi Kalif Ma Matsh (The one who delegates doesn’t die),
(last version), 2013. Ittihadiya Palace wall, Cairo.
Fig. 13: Saad Zaghloul, “It’s useless, sons of bitches,” 2012. Cairo.
73Transcultural Studies 2016.2
portraits we read “Mubarak, the military, the brotherhood” (Mubarak, ‘askar,
ikhwān). Here, the artist implies that the military had actually always been in
power in Egypt and announces their visible takeover.
Disenchantment with the results of the uprisings continued to grow. In June
2012, a group of artists expressed their feelings with a mural showing a highly
respected gure from the past, the nationalist politician and rst prime minister
of independent Egypt, Saad Zaghloul (1859–1927), who is considered to be the
“father of the nation.” He sits cross-legged in a comfortable chair and wears a
black suit, a white shirt, a red bow tie, and the red tarbush or fez. The colours are
those of today’s Egyptian ag. Zaghloul lifts his right arm and raises his middle-
nger. The text reads “it’s useless, sons of bitches” (mafsh fayda ya wilād al
mar’a). The phrase refers to the dying Saad Zaghloul’s famous last words to
his wife, Safeya: “it’s useless, cover me up, Safeya.”11 These words have been
interpreted as Zaghloul’s disillusionment with the political situation in Egypt at
the time of his death12 (“The Presidential Election” 2012) (gure 13).
Concluding thoughts: From solid walls to intangible heritage?
President Mohamed Morsi was removed from power on July 3, 2013, and
the military regime, headed by General Abdel Fattah al Sissi, took over.
Censorship increased; many activists, intellectuals, and artists were arrested,
some disappeared, and some left the country. However, street art, grafti, and
calligrafti continued to appear, albeit sporadically, on the walls of the main
cities, and to circulate on social media. On May 18, 2014, the artist known as
Keizer posted a grafti with the question: “Do you remember tomorrow that
never came?” (fakir bukra ill magāsh) on his Facebook page (gure 14).
On September 1, 2014, el-Teneen posted a new version of his chessboard on
his Facebook page. The squares are yellow and red and the pawns are aligned
over the whole surface. The king stands alone amongst them and dominates
them all. There are no dignitaries around; the king is back (gure 15).13
The sense of disillusionment was echoed in early May 2015 with calligrafti
by the artist Ahmed Naguib on the walls of the Greek campus of The American
11 Mafsh fayda, ghatin ya Ṣafeya.
12 However, he may also have meant it as acceptance of his fate.
13 The image was reposted on the Facebook page of Revolution Grafti—Street Art of the
New Egypt on 23 November 2014. The image can also be found here:
despite-st.aspx [Accessed on 4. May 2015].
74 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
Fig. 14: Keizer, “Do you remember tomorrow that never came?” 2014. Unknown location.
Fig. 15: el-Teneen, The king is back, 2014. Cairo. Photo: el-Teneen.
75Transcultural Studies 2016.2
University in Cairo (gure 16).14 The text, composed of interlaced superposed
letters and words, reads “Taff al nr yā Bahya…” (Switch off the light Bahya…).
Bahya is a girl’s name meaning “beautiful, radiant, splendid”; it is also used as
an epithet for Egypt. The line is from a song from the 1998 musical, Al malik
hwa al malik” (The king is the king), by the composer and singer Mohamed
Mounir (Mounir 2011). The musical, in turn, is an adaptation of the play bearing
the same title by Syrian playwright Saadallah Wannous (1941–1997). Penned
in 1977, the play was performed in the late seventies but was subsequently
banned from the stage in Syria.15 The rest of the text in the musical, that is not
included in the calligrafti, says: “…switch off the light Bahia, all the military
are thieves. But in our country not only the military are thieves.”
14 Posted on Ahmed Naguib’s Facebook page and Facebook page Grafti in Egypt on May 8, 2015.
15 The play draws on the story of “The Sleeper and the Vigilant” in Thousand and One Nights. It
is about a powerful king who is bored. To amuse himself, he sets up a disguise scheme and installs
a drunken henpecked commoner, Abu ‘Izza, as king for one day. The plan backres when Abu
‘Izza easily lls the role and no one from the real king’s entourage, not even the queen, notices the
subterfuge. For an analysis of the play see al-Anezi 2006, 161–193.
Fig. 16: Ahmed Naguib, “Switch off the light Bahya,” 2015. Cairo. Calligrafti.
76 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
Ephemerality does not mean that the eeting moment, the kairos, has no
lasting effect. Street art, grafti, and calligrafti of the Arab Spring blossomed
at an opportune time when many options to improve social and political
conditions seemed available. Kairos has the power of triggering change, of
having a long-term resonance and giving way to a sense of shared experiences
and memories. In Egypt, it has brought about a general awareness of and
engagement in politics that had been lacking among the majority of the
population. During the Egyptian Spring, artists resorted to street art, grafti,
and calligrafti to impart their views to a varied audience both at home and
abroad. They translated their dissent and political activism into potent visual
images that covered the walls in signicant locations of the urban space. In
the process, they created a dialogical space where ideas are transposed into
images that reach a transnational and transcultural public. In their works, the
artists combine originality in giving form to their ideas with familiarity in
using the vernacular language and referring to elements of shared cultural
memory. The interpretations of the pieces by passers-by in the streets, users
on the Internet, and members of different social media networks may differ
completely from the intentions of the artists. However, this does not mean
that the pieces they created lose their affective power and cease to impact the
feelings and perceptions of various audiences. Although the art is ephemeral,
it is still stored and shared on a plethora of Internet platforms. These have
become the kind of museum without walls accessible to all—at least to those
who have access to these technologies—that the French writer and politician
André Malraux (1901–1976) envisioned. These developments suggest that the
World Wide Web is developing into an effective tool to store the memory of
events and to help shape part of the intangible heritage of the twenty-rst
century in different countries, Egypt included.
Richard Jacquemond posits that the period between 2011 and 2013 in Egypt
did not merely expose a deep societal and political divide, it also brought to
light a signicant generation gap in a number of cultural elds (Jacquemond
2015). It provided the space for new cultural productions and novel cultural
practices. The road to freedom of expression, however, is long and arduous.
As mentioned above, in the aftermath of this euphoric period, a number of
intellectuals and artists were silenced, put behind bars, subjected to what is
euphemistically referred to as “forced” disappearance (i.e. whereabouts are
unknown) or chose to leave. Some, like Ganzeer, who now lives in the USA,
produce smaller-sized pieces in studios, exhibit in art galleries, and explore
the possibilities offered by different genres such as graphic novels. Other
internationally known artists, such as Ammar Abo Bakr, Bahia Shehab, and
Ahmed Naguib, are regularly invited to participate in street art and grafti
festivals and other cultural venues in various countries. Street art and grafti
77Transcultural Studies 2016.2
from the Egyptian Spring attracted attention worldwide, and a vast number of
publications appeared. The documentation and literature produced provided
fertile grounds for an international market (Abaza 2016). It prompted
sponsors to provide funds to promote the image of the “post-orientalist,
post-2011, rebellious Arab artist.” This interest may persuade all involved to
nd a modus vivendi, according to Jacquemond. As often happens in similar
political situations, the authorities may become more accommodating towards
“rebellious” artists and try to placate them by allowing them to practice
their art within certain limits and under the somewhat lenient control from
relevant ministries, especially the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Culture,
and the Ministry of Education. A way to do this is by sponsoring street art
festivals such as the one that has been held in Burullus, a shing town in
Egypt’s eastern delta, since 2013. Conversely, the artists may agree to conform
to some form of censorship and to the images of post-orientalist, rebellious
Arab artists that circulate in Western countries, or at least to negotiate with
these representations (Jacquemond 2015, 142–143). Several produce their
new pieces in foreign environments and tend to combine activism with
poetry. Bahia Shehab’s recent series on the poems of the late Palestinian poet
Mahmoud Darwish (1941–2008) illustrate this trend well. (gure 17).
Fig. 17: Bahia Shehab, Those Who Have No Land Have No Sea (verse by poet Mahmoud
Darwish), August 2016. Kefalonia, Greece. Calligrafti.
78 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
Another example of this kind of compromise is the anamorphic piece entitled
Perception by the Tunisian-French calligrafti artist el Seed. He created it
in Cairo’s district of garbage collectors, Mansheyat Nasser (gure 18). The
inhabitants are predominantly Copts who are known to have developed an
efcient recycling system. El Seed spread his calligrafti on the surfaces of
about 50 apartment buildings in the area. The piece, which can only be seen in
full from a specic point on the Moqattam Hill, is a quote dating from the third
century patriarch of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, “Anyone who wants to see the
sunlight clearly must wipe his eyes rst.”16
The afterlife, or, to use the term coined by Aby Warburg, the Nachleben of
the Egyptian Spring remains unclear.17 The events are still too recent for
mnemohistory or to understand their long-lasting effects. Today, most walls
bearing murals or stencils have been whitewashed or pulled down and rebuilt;
very few pieces of street art survive. Nevertheless, some places, such as
the area around Tahrir Square and Mohamed Mahmoud Street, are slowly
16 In arāda ahad an yabur nr al shams fā in ʽaliyhu an yamsaḥ ʽaynayhu.
17 For a discussion on the afterlife of events see Tamm 2015.
Fig. 18: el Seed, Perception, 2016. Cairo.
79Transcultural Studies 2016.2
becoming iconic sites and may gradually acquire the aura of a mnemotopos,
that is, a place where collective memories converge. As such, sometime in the
future they may represent the material foundation for elaborating the cultural
memory of the Arab Spring in Egypt (Gonzáles-Ruibol, 2008, 256–259;
2014). The digitized pictures of the street art produced in this short time may
then constitute a signicant documentation on which to elaborate a new kind
of intangible heritage.
This article was completed during my stay as a member of the research group
“After Discourse: Things, Archaeology, and Heritage in the 21st Century,” at
the Centre for Advanced Study (CAS) at the Norwegian Academy of Science
and Letters in Oslo during the academic year 2016–2017. Earlier drafts were
presented in 2014 and 2015 at the interdisciplinary seminars “Translating
Concepts at Disciplinary Crossroads: Time, Space, Culture, Religion and
Heritage,” Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University
of Oslo. I am grateful to the participants for their valuable comments. I am
greatly indebted to artists and colleagues in Egypt for taking time to discuss
their work with me and answer my queries. Very special thanks go to Bahia
Shehab and Mona Abaza, of The American University in Cairo, for being so
forthcoming. I would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their
useful advice.
List of Illustrations
Fig. 1: Advertising a chicken farm in Fayoum, 1976. Fayoum. Photo: Raymond
Collet. Courtesy Raymond Collet.
Fig. 2: Marwan Shahin, Guy Fawkes mask Anonymous wearing the nemes
headdress of pharaohs in Ancient Egypt, 2013. Cairo. Photo: Alejo Santander.les/2013/09/Egipto-V.jpg [Accessed on 4.
August 2016].
Fig. 3: Mad Grafti Week (Facebook group), Joker as a puppeteer, 2012. Cairo.
Photo: Alejo Santander.les/2013/09/
Egipto-6.jpg [Accessed on 24. March 2014].
Fig. 4: Amr Nazeer, Joke, 2013. Cairo. Graphic: Amr Nazeer. http://bit.
ly/2lWKWqA [Accessed on 7. May 2015].
80 Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring
Fig. 5: Freedom Painters, 2011. Cairo, Nasr City. Photo: Jano
Charbel. Courtesy of the photographer. https://www.
janocharbel/8412367522[Accessed on 7. March 2017].
Fig. 6: el-Teneen, The king is down, 2011. Cairo.
content/uploads/2013/06/La-scacchiera-EL-TENEEN.jpg?bd2281 [Accessed
on 3. May 2015].
Fig. 7: Bahia Shehab, No, and a Thousand Times No, 2011. Cairo. Calligrafti.
Photo: Bahia Shehab. Courtesy of the photographer.
Fig. 8: Bahia Shehab, You May Crush the Flowers, But You Cannot Delay the
Spring (verse by poet Pablo Neruda), 2011. Cairo. Calligrafti. Photo: Bahia
Shehab. Courtesy of the photographer.
Fig. 9: Bahia Shehab, The Blue Bra. On top: “No to stripping the people.” The
sole of the military boot reads: “Long live a peaceful revolution [in Arabic],”
2011. Cairo. Calligrafti. Photo: Bahia Shehab. Courtesy of the photographer.ti-bahia-shehab/ [Accessed
on 28. November 2014].
Fig. 10: Omar Fathy aka Picasso, Illi Kalif Ma Matsh [The one who delegates
doesn’t die], (rst version), 2012. Cairo. Photo: Gigi Ibrahim. http://www.tiegypt.jpg
[Accessed on 4. May 2015].
Fig. 11: Omar Fathy aka Picasso, Illi Kalif Ma Matsh [The one who delegates
doesn’t die], with poem Oh! Regime you are afraid of the brush and the pen,
2012. Cairo. Photo: Hassan Emad Hassan.
of-freedom-street-art-of-the/434 [Accessed on 4. May 2015].
Fig. 12: Omar Fathy aka Picasso, Illi Kalif Ma Matsh [The one who delegates
doesn’t die], (last version), 2013. Ittihadiya Palace wall, Cairo. Photo:
Basma Hamdy. [Accessed
on 4. May 2015].
Fig. 13: Saad Zaghloul, “It’s useless, sons of bitches,” 2012. Cairo. Photo: Mona
galerie/abaza_satire/abbildung-14 [Accessed on 11. March 2014].
Fig. 14: Keizer, “Do you remember tomorrow that never came?” 2014.
Unknown location. Photo: Keizer.
[Accessed on 18. May 2014].
81Transcultural Studies 2016.2
Fig. 15: el-Teneen, The king is back, 2014. Cairo. Photo: el-Teneen. https://
[Accessed on 4. May 2015].
Fig. 16: Ahmed Naguib, “Switch off the light Bahya,” 2015. Cairo.
Calligrafti. Photo: Ahmed Naguib. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.
com/736x/96/5c/36/965c36eac2ed052b36421faa47f074e2.jpg [Accessed on
8. May 2015]
Fig. 17: Bahia Shehab, Those Who Have No Land Have No Sea (verse of poet:
Mahmoud Darwish), August 2016. Kefalonia, Greece. Calligrafti. Photo:
Bahia Shehab. Courtesy of the photographer.
Fig. 18: el Seed, Perception, 2016. Cairo. Photo: el Seed. http://english.
[Accessed on 7. April 2016].
Abaza, Mona. 2013. “Satire, Laughter and Mourning in Cairo’s Grafti.”
Orient-Institut Studies 2.
publikationen/orient-institut-studies/2-2013/abaza_satire [Accessed
on 30. April 2014].
———. 2016. “The Field of Grafti and Street Art in Post-January 2011
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... This is similar to ephemeral art, such as pop-up exhibitions or statues made with perishable materials, which too are short-lived. Some ephemeral artists use the nonpermeance of their works to resist a market that requires permanence and draw in audiences (Naguib, 2017) and this represents a challenge to museum creators who are tasked to archive and preserve objects from the past (Levent & McRainey, 2014). A good example of such practices are pop-up exhibitions or street art that are malleable and open to destruction through their public exposure (e.g., Banksy's artwork that shredded after it was sold at an auction). ...
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Digital edible literacies (DEL) are a new media phenomenon that has recently surfaced in social media but has not been examined in scholarly literature before. I exemplify the entanglements of food, media, and children's stories in three DEL exemplars shared on a private blog, Instagram, and connected Meta channels. Drawing on a genre analysis, I position DEL within affective theories and connect them to the concept of ephemeral and material affect. I argue that the ephemeral materiality of DEL expands children's literacies with new temporal relationships that exemplify the sensory dimensions of affect in literacy. This theoretical expansion is important to facilitate understandings of the complex affective qualities of new literacy ecologies.
... Other intangible aspects of heritage tend to be either overlooked or are often regarded as too difficult to address. As shown elsewhere, aural heritage, the sounds generated by, and prevalent, in the human-generated environment, tends to be under-researched [71], as is the interface between intangible aspects of heritage and tangible yet ephemeral manifestations [72,73]. Multisensory aspects of intangible cultural heritage have been largely overlooked, with emerging research in that direction exploring the nature of culinary heritage [74][75][76]. ...
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Annually, there are between 2500 and 3000 Christmas markets in Germany. While purported to be rooted in century-old tradition, the current concept of the markets, shaped in the 1930s, gradually transformed from primarily mercantile operations to experiential events. The experiential dimension is a collection of visual, auditory, and olfactory components that create a compound sensory response: the 'Christmas atmosphere'. The prevalence of COVID-19 meant that traditional Christmas markets were largely absent from the festive calendar in Germany in 2020, disrupting the usual sensory experiences associated with these events. A review of the online presence showed that augmented markets and virtual reality were subsequently utilized in an attempt to recreate the experience and the ambience of the traditional markets, but had limited interactivity with many of the senses. We explore to what extent these multiple-sensory components may have been lost during the Christmas period of 2020 due to the COVID-19-induced transition from the traditional multisensory live market to a predominantly online experience, and highlight problems which arise through the documentation of such complex intangible heritage.
... The majority of the discourse on ephemeral heritage relates to manifestations of cultural heritage in the form of paper-based ephemera [106], soundscapes [20,21], events and performances [107], street art [108], modern, non-permanent materials (such as edible art) [109], temporary art installations [110] and digital ephemera [111], including digital art [112] and projections [113]. ...
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The standard methodology for the assessment of cultural heritage significance relies on hindsight, with a passage of time elapsed between the creation of the site or object and its assessment. There are, however, cases where heritage significance is instant (e.g., sites associated with the first Moon landing). This paper argues that hindsight will not be required to determine that the COVID- 19 pandemic will come to be considered as a significant historic event, as COVID-19 has already manifested itself as a social, cultural and economic disruptor on a global scale with a mortality in the millions. Heritage professionals have the unique opportunity to assess and document places and structures associated with the pandemic, that are poised to be worthy of a heritage listing in the near future, while they are still in use and function as intended. This paper discusses the nature of the sites and structures and explores possible management approaches to safeguard evidence of the pandemic for future generations
... Street Art is an artistic activity that is based on a community setting, characterized by interaction with the community and involving a professional artist collaborating with people. It referred to as "the art of the subaltern and of political protest," (Naguib 2016). Street Art encompasses various forms of visual arts created in public spaces such as graffiti and calligraffiti (Abdulaziz 2015;Arnoldi 2015;Zoghbi and Karl 2012). ...
Since ancient times, art played a significant role in people’s life. It fulfills their spiritual needs and represents their culture. Art is a powerful tool for shaping the spirits, minds, morality, and emotions of people. As with any other aspect of life, art has its periods of prosperity and crumble. Before, public art had been represented in art pieces displayed at museums, but then, the meaning extended to art in outdoor spaces. The scope of this research is public art installed in open spaces. The main aim of the study is to shed light on the lost role of public art in Egyptian cities in shaping the cultural and social life to help fighting this phenomenon and reviving the role of art in the community. The research revealed that the absence of having a comprehensive plan that controls the construction and installation of art pieces in open spaces and the ignorance of the artists’ role in the community are the most important reasons behind the problem of randomness of art in public spaces.
... The mural in Rome was used by friends and family of Seif in a campaign to free her and other political prisoners in Egypt. 4 While Abo Bakr's work and other revolutionary Egyptian street art has been extensively covered in academic literature (see for instance Abaza, 2013, 2015b, Abdelmagid, 2013Abou-Setta, 2015;Awad and Wagoner, 2017;de Ruiter, 2015;Findlay, 2012;Hamdy, 2015;Kraidy, 2016b;Lennon, 2014;Naguib, 2017;Nicoarea, 2014;Sanders, 2012;Schielke and Winegar, 2012;Sharaf, 2015;Wagoner, 2019;Zakareviciute, 2014), the mural of Seif in Christiania has not received any specific attention. ...
This article traces the intersecting and interstitial spaces of political aesthetics in political street art featuring key activists of the Egyptian uprising of 2011–13 as well as the following struggle. We argue that the complex political expressions displayed in the images as recontextualized and embodied afford the images different roles in citizens’ political and social struggles. We develop three modalities of political street art – emplacement, travelling and conversation – that allow different works different roles in the political formation of subjectivity. In order to understand street art’s role in political subjectivity formation, this article applies visual discursive analyses to two expressions of political street art: first, the stencil of a blue bra, referring to sitt al-banat, a woman who was stripped naked in public as she was beaten unconscious by Egyptian military soldiers; second, the mural of then jailed activist Sanaa Seif in the Copenhagen borough of Christiania.
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Durant la révolution, un art contestataire s’est déployé dans les espaces urbains du Caire, en particulier dans le centre-ville. Contribuant à la politisation et à la conflictualité dans les espaces publics, ces œuvres et événements artistiques révolutionnaires sont remis en cause depuis 2013 à la suite d’un renforcement de l’autoritarisme avec une augmentation de la répression des opposants politiques et de la sécurisation dans le centre-ville. Le régime autoritaire cherche à asseoir son hégémonie sur les espaces physiques et à monopoliser l’image dans et de la ville menaçant le droit à la ville et à la centralité pour certains artistes qui ne peuvent plus produire d’images ou d’événements alternatifs à ceux du régime. Le maintien d’un art passe alors par des adaptations qui favorisent des acteurs privés ayant des ressources financières et participant à un centre-ville gentrifié, pacifié et contrôlé.
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Batik merupakan budaya yang berasal dari rakyat dan selalu berkembang mengikuti zaman dan lingkungan. Pengembangan dari perancangan batik dilakukan untuk membuka kemungkinan-kemungkinan baru ke arah yang lebih luas lagi, dengan eksplorasi visual dan berani menerobos batasan-batasan batik konvensional. Tujuan dari perancangan batik ini adalah menghasilkan variasi produk batik tulis yang ditujukan untuk wanita usia 19- 25 tahun. Metode yang digunakan terdiri dari metode perancangan dengan teori Collin Clipson, konsep perancangan, dan visualisasi. Seluruh rancangan desain memanfaatkan visual graffiti menjadi motif utama. Visual graffiti menjadikan batik yang dikembangkan unik, karena tidak hanya sebagai bentuk ekspresi seni, graffiti juga digunakan sebagai media komunikasi. Kata atau kalimat yang diolah menjadi graffiti menggunakan tema streetfood yang ada di Indonesia. Pengolahan nama streetfood Indonesia yang dieksplor menjadi graffiti diambil sebagai simbol budaya populer yang ada di Indonesia dengan tetap mempertahankan nilai tradisi pada batik itu sendiri. Hasil dari perancangan ini adalah produk berupa kain batik dan busana ready-to-wear. Kata Kunci: batik tulis, graffiti, streetfood BATIK TULIS DESIGN USING VISUAL GRAFFITI Abstract Batik is a people-based culture that evolves with the times and the surroundings. By aesthetic research and daring to push the limitations of conventional batik, the evolution of batik design aims to offer new possibilities in a larger direction. This batik design intends to provide a variety of written batik products aimed at women between 19 and 25. The design process employed combines Collin Clipson theory, design concepts, and visualization. Each design incorporates visual graffiti as the primary motif. Visual graffiti distinguishes developed batik from others, as graffiti is utilized as a means of communication in addition to aesthetic expression. Words or statements that have been transformed into graffiti use the theme of Indonesian street food. The transformation of Indonesian street food names into graffiti serves as a sign of popular culture in Indonesia while preserving the traditional value of batik. The results of this design are batik cloth and ready-to-wear clothing. Keywords: batik tulis, graffiti, streetfood
Since their appearanceon the streets as alternative communication tools in 1980s, graffiti have led to controversies over their conceptualization as vandalism of the public property. Despite this negative understanding, however, graffiti are tools through which minorities and marginalized groups are able to represent themselves and express their voices in public spheres. Thus, graffiti are turning into alternative and protest tools of communication. Today, through the possibilities that new media and especially social media offer, the lost voices are disseminated faster through graffiti and therefore, graffiti are transformed into more effective communication channels.While acknowledging the yet ongoing vandalistic approach to graffiti, this study contributes theoretically, through a qualitative method of analysis, to the theories on graffiti by offering a discussion on how new media affects the dissemination and conceptualization of graffiti. The analysis and conclusive discussions suggest that despite the negative conceptualization of graffiti as a vandalistic act, they have been utilized as alternative communication tools and are reached by a huge number of audiences through their dissemination by new media even after their actual disappearance from the street walls.
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A Special Issue on the Arab Spring with a fresh approach focusing on countries and movements that weren't the epicenter of the uprisings i.e. the Gulf monarchies, Lebanon, Iran, Morocco, Turkey, Jordan, the Kurdish and the Palestinian movement. Also articles on the European policy and the Arab Spring in theater and the art of graffiti.
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This paper analyzes the changes in the linguistic landscape of Libya during the period between the February 2011 uprising and the death of Gaddafi in October 2011 by examining street art in Tripoli. Here, I treat the street art as painted images and words in public contexts are part of the visual linguistic landscape. There are also multilingual ones, for instance, those combining Arabic with Berber or those including English in them, so those are indeed linguistic landscapes. During the Gaddafi regime, such public expressions referred to and often praised Gaddafi; however, during the uprising, both artists and everyday Libyans took to the streets to express their pro- or anti-Gaddafi sentiments, giving rise to a new form of public debate. In this presentation, I will be analyzing the informative and symbolic functions of some images and writings that were painted in the streets as well as public and private buildings in Tripoli, the capital of Libya. © 2015 Editura Universitatii din Bucuresti. All rights reserved.
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In the last few decades, we have witnessed a rearticulation of the traditional relationship between the categories of past, present and future in Western societies. The English novelist J. G. Ballard anticipated and captured it well in his introduction to the French edition of his cult novel Crash: ‘Increasingly, our concepts of past, present and future are being forced to revise themselves. Just as the past, in social and psychological terms, became a casualty of Hiroshima and the nuclear age, so in its turn the future is ceasing to exist, devoured by the all-voracious present’ (Ballard [1974] 1985: 5). One of the most influential interpreters of this alteration, François Hartog, has called it a change of the ‘regime of historicity’ (Hartog 2003; cf. Delacroix et al. 2009; Hartog 2010). While for the past couple of centuries the dominant Western regime of historicity was future-oriented, the orientation has shifted during the last decades — the symbolic turning point selected by Hartog being the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 — with the future clearly relinquishing its position as the main tool for interpreting historical experience and giving way to a present-oriented regime that he terms ‘presentism’ (Hartog 2003: 111–62; cf. Hartog 2008, 2013: 28–33, 99–107).1 A presentist regime of historicity implies a new way of understanding temporality, an abandoning of the linear, causal and homogeneous conception of time characteristic of the previous, modernist regime of historicity.
From two interrelated points of view, both empirical and digital, this work examines the relationship between the emergence of massive graffiti in Cairo, the rise of social media and the intensification of a contemporary protest culture in Egypt. Indeed, we have seen the emergence on the walls of the Egyptian capital of a new graphic order in which citizens engage themselves in acts of resistance through urban writings and pictorial representations. This “writing event” (Fraenkel, 2002), at work in Cairo since the beginning of the revolution in January 2011 is the symbol of a renewed relationship with the Egyptian public space. This work focuses on the murals of Mohamed Mahmoud street in Cairo and the transformation of this public space into a symbolic place. The street is the privileged space of a new form of political expression, a writing-in-action area, and thus it constitutes a good example of the shift in the collective actions among Egyptian youth who are familiar with ICTs. This work will attempt to articulate a vision of Mohamed Mahmoud street as an exhibition space for dialogical forms of writing, but also as the birthplace of a socio-cultural shift in a certain sector of Egyptian and Arab audiences : a space able to shape a new relationship with the media.
The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 had among the common features of political popular expression in the public space the overwhelming presence of poetry to which Elliot Colla attributes a prominent role from the beginning of the uprising being not an ornament but a soundtrack contributing to the revolutionary act (Colla 2012:47). The political graffiti of Cairo, a cultural practice brought about and fueled by the revolution is not exempted, with poetry acting as the sound recorded by graffiti, transformed at the same time into a rhetorical device. This article will present an analysis of a selected corpus of graffiti featuring revolutionary imagery and fragments of poetry, focusing on the specificity of the re-appropriation of literary fragments used as elements of a revolutionary, contentious rhetoric, and the creation of an inter-textual topicality that transcends historical contexts. We will follow, at the same time, the relationship between poetry and graffiti in order to clarify the mechanisms of a lyrical dimension of Egyptian protest graffiti. © 2015 Editura Universitatii din Bucuresti. All rights reserved.
This book is about power: the power wielded over others – by absolute monarchs, tyrannical authoritarian regimes and military occupiers – and the power of the people who resist and deny their rulers’ claims to that authority by whatever means. The extraordinary events in the Middle East in 2011 offered a vivid example of how nonviolent demonstration can topple seemingly invincible rulers. Drawing on these dramatic events and parallel moments in the modern history of the Middle East, from the violent uprisings in Algeria against the French in the early twentieth century, to revolution in Iran in 1979 and the Palestinian intifada, the book considers the ways in which the people have united to unseat their oppressors and fight against the status quo to shape a better future. The book also probes the relationship between power and forms of resistance and how common experiences of violence and repression create new collective identities. Nowhere is this more strikingly exemplified than in the art of the Middle East, its posters and graffiti, and its provocative installations which are discussed in the concluding chapter. This brilliant, yet unsettling, book affords a panoramic view of the twentieth- and twenty-first-century Middle East through occupation, oppression and political resistance.
As the introduction to this collection of essays, “The Art/History of Resistance: Visual Ephemera in Public Space” lays out the conceptual framework for discussion of what is defined as the “ephemeral intervention”: an event in which people convene in public space, using ephemeral elements such as images, texts, sounds, dance, chants, and massed bodies, in order to effect political change through revisualization of that space. The ephemeral intervention has a long history, and not necessarily always a progressive one; its recent deployment in Occupy Wall Street is an important example. This introductory essay allows readers to understand the evolution of such interventions, and the modes through which they become effective. It is also important to note why the immediacy and physicality of such interventions distinguish them from electronic transmission of political events.