Egyptian graffiti artist Ganzeer arrested amid surge in political expression
Mohamed Fahmy, who goes by Ganzeer, was one of three artists briefly arrested today on the eve of massive protests. His work is part of a wave of political and revolutionary graffiti on Cairo's streets.
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Adham Bakry’s first experience in street art was during parliamentary elections last fall, which ranked among the most fraudulent in Egypt’s history. “It's something I didn't do before. That wouldn't have crossed my mind before. I would have been scared,” he says. Under Mubarak’s regime, the police, known for torture and abuse, as well as corruption, were feared.Skip to next paragraph
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While much of the political graffiti in the beginning was aimed at Mubarak, and then his cronies, these days, you can walk the streets of downtown Cairo and find “Down with Tantawi,” a reference to Egypt’s military ruler, scrawled on a wall.
There’s El Teneen’s new depiction of Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and even a depiction of a pair of men’s Army-green briefs, dotted with blue military helicopters. The artist, who asked to remain anonymous, calls it “Tantawi’s undies.”
The proliferation of anti-military graffiti is a reflection of Egyptian activists’ frustration with the military rulers, who they say replaced one autocracy with another.
But those feelings don’t appear to resonate with many Egyptians, who are eager to preserve stability and get Egypt’s economy – and their lives – back on track. Much of the graffiti that has appeared since the revolution is nonpolitical – simply colorful expressions of national pride in the popular uprising.
No one stops to ask, 'Do you have a permit for that?'
Others are honoring the more than 840 Egyptians killed during the revolution, known as martyrs here, by painting their likenesses across the city. Mohamed Hassan and friend Abdullah Ragab designed simple but powerful black-and-white portraits of four of those who died in the uprising, and painted them in different neighborhoods. “We wanted everyone to see them and know that they died for their country,” says Mr. Hassan, an architect by training who works in graphic design.
Ganzeer has designed and painted three huge murals of men who died in the uprising. He hopes to do all 800-plus. When one of them was painted over, presumably by city or military officials, he painted it back, this time depicting the youth flashing a peace sign. Though the martyr murals are more like a memorial, most of his work is political. “It's not decorative. It communicates. It delivers a message,” he says.
As he and friends and volunteers painted the tank, they wondered what would happen if an Army officer showed up. None did, but even so, such encounters have changed. Ganzeer, who had done some street art in Alexandria prior to the revolution, said in the past people would come up and ask “Do you have a permit for that?”
“Now people are either joining in or they mind their own businesses,” he says. “ I'm not sure this will persist but there has been a cultural shift in how people deal with the streets after the revolution.”
El Teneen says it’s still premature to speak of owning the streets, however. “Most of the graffiti is not political,” he says. “Maybe we can say that people are expressing themselves, but the streets aren't ours yet.”