Walls do talk. With new art projects now spreading across the country, the seaside streets that lead into the cultural capital of Alexandria tell an interesting story.
Alexandria has always been dubbed a scenic, cultural capital, housing profound structures such as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the Pharos lighthouse. However, a sudden renaissance of street art has given the walls of Alexandria a new task — to pioneer the country’s cultural revolution.
Since the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak, art has been playing an increasingly larger role in society. Egyptian artist Amr Ali told Daily News Egypt, “The political revolution has now given way to the artistic revolution.”
Art has become an outlet for both amateur and professional artists to express the social issues that weigh heavily on the minds of every Egyptian. In the search for liberation, art frees them from the shackles of the Mubarak regime.
Street art is proving to be the medium of choice at the moment. And while many young Egyptians have found a way to express themselves with your average can of spray paint, legally curated projects are also being commissioned.
“Graffiti in Between” is a joint European-Egyptian art team. Their mission: to develop street culture in Alexandria while giving locals an added reason to smile.
Fatma Hendawy, an Alexandrian and curator in the project, said, “We are trying to create something positive out of the past destruction while giving an artistic face to history.”
The team consists of several artists, including Mercedes De Gary from Spain, Amr Ali from Alexandria and MICKRY 3 and TIKA from Switzerland.
Prior to the January 25 Revolution, graffiti was not the most advisable means of expression due to the inherent dangers involved with the creation process. Police and government hired thugs were less than keen on the evolving street art taking over the city walls.
“Before [the revolution], it was harder to paint because of the thuggish police. People would also call the police because they didn’t understand what we were doing,” adds Ali, “Now, people are getting used to the idea of street art and sometimes they even offer us tea when we paint!”
During Egypt’s recent 18-day popular revolt, Alexandria witnessed some of the fiercest fighting in the nation.
More than 100 days after Mubarak stepped down this historical city still remembers the cloud of ash from the incinerated regional party headquarters, the provincial government building and the ever-lasting shadows of bloodshed.
However, there is a silver lining.
The ousting of the former president seems to have temporarily dissolved previous censorship laws, allowing artists to take back the streets.
“‘Graffiti in Between’ thrives off the idea that the streets are a public space and should therefore be used to benefit the public,” Hendawy said.
Co-curated by The Goethe Institute, the two-part project kicked off on May 8 commissioning a melting pot of international and local artists.
In less than a week, the artists transformed the walls around Alexandria’s Lycee Al-Horreya theater into canvasses ranging from four-six meters wittingly infused with the current politics.
Mercedes DeGary, Spanish artist and member of the team, painted the town red with her powerful mural mixing symbolism with Egyptian characters in traditional dress.
When asked about the meaning of her mural, she said, “The piece is open to different interpretations. I like having an element of mystery in my work, forcing the spectator to come to their own conclusions.
“In the week I have been here, many people have stopped to ask about the piece. Instead of answering, I wait to see what they say. And boy, do some people have some creative ideas.”
“We have had dozens and dozens of people stop to take pictures, shake our hands and say ‘May God shed light on you,’” Mercedes said.
TIKA has covered the globe with commissioned murals often inspired by ethnic myths and primitivism. Paying homage to Ancient Egyptian goddess, Isis, the three-meter high peacock sits watchfully in a papyrus boat made up of striking colors.
TIKA said, “I seek inspiration from each country’s nearly forgotten tales and traditions. According to Isis, if you’re on the boat, you are safe.”
TIKA’s commitment to ancient myths allowed her to instill loaded content into her mural without directly addressing politics.
“I didn’t want to do anything overtly political,” she added, “But the mural asks viewers to seek the tools needed to lead us into the future. Like the papyrus boat, these tools will keep us from harm.”
Art can expand the dialogue beyond the often-skewed modern media rhetoric. According to Hendawy, “Art is a creative documentation of the times. Curating [street] art projects outside of traditional galleries makes this documentation more accessible and interactive to the general public.”
In a country with a notoriously high illiteracy rate, projects like “Graffiti in Between” can help bridge the gap where written language cannot. It mobilizes dialogue, communication and a sensation that could potentially filter into a social and hopefully, a political level.
Part two of Graffiti in Between will begin in October and will feature famous German graffiti team MACLAIN and local street art maven, Aya Tarek.
“The political revolution has now given way to the artistic revolution,” said Egyptian artist Amr Ali.
Spanish artist Mercedes DeGary’s powerful mural mixes symbolism with Egyptian characters in traditional dress.