Moments in spray paint: Minutes from the Frankfurt Graffiti workshop

11 Min Read

By Caram Kapp

Caram Kapp is one of the artists that participated in the “Festival of Egyptian Culture” held at the Tutankhamun exhibit in Frankfurt. The below are moments in time picked out of the workshop “Egyptian Street Art and Arabic Graffiti” on April 7-14, 2012.

Amidst the skyscrapers of Frankfurt, hidden away near the train station on Güterplatz, stands the tomb of Tutankhamun. More interestingly, in front of that stands a wall, and an out-of use generator building. Over the last few days, terrible things have been happening to this wall, some may say. In the opinion of some others, street artists are painting a mural.

Flown in from Egypt, Paris, Berlin and Frankfurt via Sao Paolo, a crew of emerging and established practitioners of the art of mural statements have begun painting a wall. Their names recall comic book heroes: Ammar Abo Bakr, Aya Tarek, Case, El Seed, and Ganzeer. Together, they are bombing the pharaoh’s tomb, starting with the background: a giant, colorful, calligraphy which reads “You can beat us, but never win us over.” Then, a smoking child soldier holds a gun made of Euro notes. A pharaoh, his arms crossed, brandishes money and weaponry instead of the scepters of Egypt. Nefertiti, blinded by a sniper in Cairo. Finally, a bearded face with a vertical mouth and male genitalia for eyes. Brushes, pens, spray cans and glue on walls.

The biggest difference to drawing on the streets of Cairo: there is no pressure from the public, no prying eyes. “We are playing,” Ganzeer tells me. And yet, it is obvious that in midst of all the playful talk, some serious comment is being made. “We of course, adapt our topics to our surroundings,” Ammar says, as he stencils a heart with wings on Nefertiti’s bust, a detail in a mural commemorating 100 years of theft. “I’m not asking for her back, she may be better conserved in Germany at this time. But I do want to comment on the way she left Egypt. This feels like the right place to do that.”

The mural he is drawing opposite the exhibition is of Nefertiti being handed over to Borchardt by a sheikh. It references a historical picture, merging it with a €100 bill. El Seed adds his calligraffiti magic to the piece. Ganzeer suggests a heart with wings, which is added to make a star pattern. Ammar sits in front of it, contemplating his next stroke, talking to Aya. Ganzeer writes “Diebstahl” (theft in German) on the piece. It is a true collaboration. On the other side of the road, Ganzeer’s Child Soldiers, or Moneychuckers, have gained photorealistic eyes and hands, courtesy of Case.

Finally, the piece is unveiled to the press. “I need Zahi Hawass,” says the organizer, referring to the former head of the Egyptian antiquities council, who is crossed out on the wall in front of him. Later on in the evening, he offers to display an image of the mural depicting the theft of the bust Zahi has been asking back for the length of his tenure on the cover of the documentation. Ammar thinks it’s very nice of him. He sings as he finishes his mural, happy with the outcome.

El Seed sings “Saba’a Bello, Saba’a Bello.” It’s the name of the restaurant we go to almost every night as he sprays on the other side of the building. “7 Bello” is a good, tiny Italian which is always full. They always get something in our order wrong. If Seed is Sicilian, they are Pakistani. We laugh. Aya ends up the only female guest in a male dominated, traditional Frankfurt bar, on an evening of group rebellion against the Italian nutritional dictatorship. We fall to bed, exhausted and well-fed, every night. El Seed’s second wall is a multi-chromatic rendering of his slogan.

Aya Tarek sits behind bars as she paints a giant bearded face with lips cutting through it. A sign flies in the wind, warning innocent passersby not to feed the Aya. Her immense drawing thematizes women’s right to public space and privacy in her very own reconstructionist, surrealist style. It is a counterpart to her Ankh, which stands across the road from her current piece.

Case, aka Andreas von Czarnovski, paints feathers in short, graceful motions, extending the image of two roosters fighting at the end of the wall, slowly connecting panels and calligraphy. He is jet-lagged between Sao Paolo and South Africa, on the phone half the time. He enhances the eyes and hands of one of the Moneychuckers and Nefertiti’s remaining eye to dazzling result.

The Child Soldiers speak for themselves, according to Mohamed Fahmy, or Ganzeer. He adds details, a collage of photocopied bills and a belt of real coins, to a large-scale mixture of line drawing, painting and stencils of a child soldier with his arm blown off. “The Truth is Concrete” reads a German black-letter slogan underneath. Maybe it is dissimulated in the lines and coins of the soldier. Or maybe in the honest attitude of the work’s author, who smiles along as art infects and infuses the walls of the grey square with shapes and colors. As a final touch, he adds to the house a call to action against capitalism, in form of a steam-punk character calling to a demonstration.

That Pharaoh with his arms crossed, brandishing a gun and some cash is my first attempt at street art without stencils. It’s not as easy as El Seed and Case make it look. Finally an opportunity to work with these people and be part of their process, learn new techniques. There is much to be learnt, but worth it, as layer upon layer of spray paint covers the plywood plate. A new layer of blue paint satisfyingly covers the base of my Ankh, now freed from cages and the constraints of the first exhibition.

Children stop and point, commenting on the bills, asking questions about why Aya is caged, where we come from, why his arm has been shot off, and what’s that in his face? One elderly citizen passes by, declares that this is not art, an opinion he will, due to a very wide reading in unnamed literature, not be dissuaded from. We talk about money, and buildings in beards, of lines and fillings. Don Karl, street name Stone, arrives from Lebanon. He’s here to present his book “Arabic Graffiti.” We watch an energetic performance of the play “Solitaire”, by and starring Dalia Basiouny, and talk about the role of art in revolutions and job hunts on a panel of artists talking to the audience and press.

On the last day, Hanaa El Degham, another graffiti artist arrives from Berlin by train with her son. For a moment, it is like we’re working in Cairo. Ammar, in admiration of them. “Kamal… the youngest street artist in Egypt. And he learnt on Mohamed Mahmoud [Street], no less. She went and did her thing there too. She’s a real one”.

The city of Frankfurt is new to this kind of activity. A bit of paint is spilt on the streets, to much uproar. The artists are visited by policemen confused by the daytime painting on public property. The house that the city has put at the organizers’ disposal is to be torn down in a few months. “You’re doing this in broad daylight now?” inquires the voice of a citizen, incredulous at the official Street Art.

“We were invited by the city of Frankfurt.”

“I’m glad I didn’t vote for the new Mayor”

By the time the house is finished, it will be standing for another year and the artists are welcome to paint on the rest of the houses on Güterplatz. Of the three houses on Güterplatz, the city designated one for us to draw on on the first day; by the time we were done, they wanted everything painted.

A point seems to have been proven as we say goodbye at train stations and airports. This week has truly brought us closer together, no matter what background our lives have painted for us. A lasting piece of public art has been created, giving new lines and color to a grey, lost midan under the shadows of Frankfurt. Street art has brought this crew together. Now, it is taking us to destinations in Belgium, Egypt, France Germany and South Africa.



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