By Chitra Kalyani
In September 2011, Khaled Said made an appearance on the famous Berlin Wall. This month, Egypt is once again taking its walls to Germany, this time alongside the Tutankhamun Exhibit in Frankfurt.
April 13 marked the “First Friday” in Frankfurt, where a workshop and gallery entitled “Egyptian Street Art and Arabic Graffiti” were showcased. The art event was part of “A Festival of Egyptian Culture” taking place at the travelling museum produced by Semmel Concerts, exhibiting the tomb and artifacts related to King Tut.
Daily News Egypt spoke to curator Don R. Karl from his Berlin-based From Here to Fame Publishing. Karl said the event would bring together graffiti artists who were “accomplished and famous but had never met [altogether] before.”
Egyptian artists participating in the street art event included Cairo’s Ganzeer, the Alexandrian Aya Tarek, and Ammar Abo Bakr from Luxor. Tunisian calligraffiti artist El-Seed, who has produced murals mixing calligraphy and graffiti, was also showcased. One of the goals for the event, said Karl, was to allow these artists to work together.
Karl has had a long-standing history connecting him with art in the Arab world: “Love,” he said. He has previously worked in three successive workshops entitled “Bombing Beirut,” about graffiti in Lebanon. He has also produced a book entitled “Arabic Graffiti,” which was released in Egypt last year.
Connecting the time of Tutankhamun to the contemporary times of revolution was “perhaps the most interesting question that artists have to answer,” Karl said. Drawing connections, Karl said that the hieroglyphs in the past were sometimes engraved in protest against the pharaoh.
As Frankfurt welcomes spring, also in its Arab guests, Karl said “maybe Occupy [Movement] will wake up. The global revolution is not yet there, but we have to work on it.”
Karl is confident that this year is “a great time for Egyptians to express stuff.” There was no saying what the artists would produce. Nevertheless, “they would not be censored.” In fact, in the inner circle, the graffiti project was often called “bombing the pharaoh’s tomb.”
Alongside the graffiti, ten ankhs decorated by Egyptian artists were also installed at the venue. Originally curated for a project in Berlin by Amr Assaad, they were taken to Frankfurt through the help of artist Caram Kapp. The German-Egyptian Kapp and Aya Tarek were the only two artists whose work was both displayed on ankhs and also presented among the graffiti.
Contrary to their intention, Kapp said the ankhs were at first displayed behind fences at Frankfurt. In response, the Tarek-Kapp duo teamed up to “free the ankhs” calling it an “imprisoned ankhs exhibit.” When local news caught up on the term, organizers responded immediately by removing the fences.
The artists’ freedom of expression was one condition upon which Don Karl had insisted. His solidarity with the artists may have much to do with being a graffiti artist himself.
“When I was 13, I was sneaking out of the house at night, painting on things and trains,” said Karl, whose street name is Stone. The name and the style with which it is drawn, Karl said, reveal much about the artist.
Names and letters often compose the graffiti scene in Germany, said Andreas von Chrzanowski, better known as Case. Having made the Khaled Said graffiti on the Berlin Wall in September last year connected Case to Egypt, where again he painted a Khaled Said mural in Alexandria.
Case finds Egypt a place of “strange beauty” that despite, or even due to its disadvantages, attracts you. One thing that he recalls with fascination is the “piles of rubbish,” a sight that almost cannot be found in urban Europe, he said, almost desiring it to be a work of art in Germany.
“Graffiti is very different in Egypt and in Germany,” said Case, whom DNE met in Frankfurt. “People in Alexandria talk more about what is written [on walls]. They are more open to letters and pictures. In the West they always get the impact of images and never pay attention to letters.”
The ubiquitous written graffiti in Germany is often seen as an act of vandalism. In contrast, during his visit to Egypt last year, Case found that while making his graffiti near Makan in Downtown, people gathered around. Art, he found, is a “huge discussion” in Egypt. “It scares me.”
Case found people in Egypt more interested in the “meaning” of the artwork: “They feel it comes from a political way.” More often than not, says Case, graffiti in the West does not carry a deep messages; it is often simply about “writing one’s name.”
Karl, too, had observed differences in both regions. “In the West, in street art you had social comment. Street art in Egypt is political.” Now, said Karl, with “Occupy” content and anonymous work, street art in the West was also more political.
Noting that the revolution had equally spread to the Liberty Square in New York and Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, the artist said, “It would never have happened without Tunisia and Egypt.”
Frankfurt will present an opportunity across time for the streets to rise against Pharaoh.
For more information on the exhibit, visit http://www.tut-ausstellung.com/en/.
Alexandrian graffiti artist Aya Tarek applies some color to the graffiti in Frankfurt. (Photo courtesy Semmel concerts)
The biggest question, said Don Karl, was for artists to relate their graffiti to the exhibit. (Photo courtesy Semmel concerts)
Khaled Said graffiti made by Case on Berlin Wall finds a permanent place at Freedom Park on the banks of the river Spree. (Photo courtesy From Here to Fame Publishing)