Tahrir Graffiti: History through Art

By: Amenah AbouWard

Mohamed Mahmoud Graffiti Art. Photo by Marwan Abdel-Moniem.

The walls of Mohamed Mahmoud St. are coated with post-revolution graffiti, commemorating our newfound freedom of expression. In response to graffiti being repainted by the authorities, AUC has established a movement in favor of preserving the art.

Take a walk through the streets of Cairo, and you will most certainly be told the story of January 25. The revolution, held dear to most, has been documented on our streets in the form of graffiti art, typically depicting a corrupt system or figure, and those who died fighting against it, and exhibiting a consciousness which goes unvoiced in other, arguably filtered, media.

Even though street art has been around prior to the 2011 revolution, hardly any had transcended beyond the mundane “Biko loves Susu” and its variations. The revolution and the consequent dethroning of Hosni Mubarak has allowed civilians to take their art to the streets, creating a truly moving walk-through exhibit, telling stories of the collective Egyptian experience, spanning over 30 years of oppression.

Unfortunately, this form of artistic expression was short-lived. Not only is this unrestrained art terrorized by the SCAF loyalists, who whitewash the graffiti in order to quell the emotions and constant reminder of the revolution spurred by its existence, but it is also threatened by the authorities, who have gone so far as to arrest a number of renowned graffiti artists such as Ganzeer, who has been accounted for the famous “Tank vs. Bike” mural, which transparently criticizes SCAF. Not only are the anti-revolution activists recurrently and routinely erasing these brilliant works of art in an attempt to erase the memory of the revolution and its martyrs, but they are also replacing it with pro-army posters and messages.

This, primarily, is why AUC has decided to intervene, by creating a preservation campaign, which, according to their news website, aims to “preserve the current images, life-size, in another medium so that they might be displayed inside the Tahrir Square campus.”

The proximity of the campus to the murals isn’t  the only reason for the attachment, though, argues Reem Saad, the associate professor and director of the Middle East Studies Center, “The murals on our walls in Mohamed Mahmoud street are about the martyrs of the Port Said massacre,” said Saad, “We should do all we can to preserve them. We should do it for all of them, and for our Omar”, referring to Omar Mohsen, AUC student who died at the Port Said massacre.

Mohamed Fahmy, who goes by the pseudonym Ganzeer, is a graffiti artist mostly famous for the “Tank vs Bike” mural on Mohamed Mahmoud St., but his art can be found all over Cairo. Even though he was “into graffiti before the revolution,” Ganzeer cited that “the bulk” of his work is subsequent of, and inspired by, January 25.

Even though he believes in the power of mural work, he is “not sure that graffiti should be preserved, because then it wouldn’t be any different from canvas art.” Professor Ebony Coletu, of the Department of Rhetoric and Composition, believes otherwise. “The problem with addressing it as ‘graffiti’ and not ‘public art’,” she noted, “is that it false implies vandalism. But it is actually political expression, which is a form of freedom of speech, and that is why I support it.”

However, Professor Coletu expresses concern over the fact that AUC has not taken action yet. In her own point of view, “AUC interjected at a crucial point. They didn’t actively repaint over the graffiti, but there hasn’t been any active preservation yet.”

According to Coletu, the first act initiating the preservation campaign will take place on Monday, the second of April, where artists Alaa Awad, Hanaa Degham, and Ammar Abo Bakr will be speaking at AUC’s Tahrir campus at Ewart Hall. “In addition”, Coletu adds, “the University has just agreed to provide varnish to preserve the color on the walls. Students are invited to help.” Those wishing to volunteer should apply on the third and fourth of April.

Even though graffiti in essence is never meant to be permanent, it would be a great loss not to document this artistic representation of the revolution. One of Ganzeer’s main concerns over the whitewashing of graffiti is automatic reliance on the current media and its inaccuracy. “I chose graffiti over other types of artistic expression because there was a need for alternative media,” He said, “We can’t rely on unbiased news by watching TV shows and state media anymore, what with all the prejudiced propaganda. Uncensored street art is the only way we can tell our story.”