Graffiti is one form of street art that was never really prominent in Egypt, until the revolution erupted in 2011. When the masses took to the streets, artists took to the walls. The walls of Cairo have ever since turned into a live and public journal of events, written in colors.
During the revolution, and in the times that followed, many graffiti artists found recognition on the public arts scene. The following are some of the artists whose masterpieces expressed what many could not verbalize.
Mohamed Fahmy, known by the pseudonym Ganzeer (bicycle chain), is one of several street artists who became well-known during and after the January 25 revolution, even though he had been practicing graphic design and contemporary art since 2007. Many of his noted works criticize the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which ruled after the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak.
In light of a wave of arrests that began in Cairo in 2014, Ganzeer fled the country after TV personality Osama Kamal alleged that the street artist belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood.
2. El Zeft
Among the many iconic street art installations in the premises of Tahrir Square and around it, many belonged to El Zeft who prefers to keep his identity unknown. His art usually comes in the form of dark sarcasm and cultural word play.
Even though most of his artwork resonated quite loudly to Egyptians when they were released, his most remarkable piece of art remains his tribute to female protesters and their contribution to the revolution when he painted the Ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti wearing a gas mask. The artwork has grown to symbolize protests worldwide as teargas continues to be used as a method for dispersing protesting crowds.
3. Sad Panda
Among many street art icons that Cairenes grew accustomed to seeing scattered about was a figure of a slumped, grimaced sad Panda which resonates the unspoken vibe of the city: deep sadness and lament.
“It is not an idea; it is just my alter ego. They named me ‘the panda’ when I was young because I looked like one,” the artist who prefers to stay anonymous once said . “I started to draw on walls back in late 2008, and it is not graffiti, it’s street art. For me, I just like the act of vandalism and you tell me any reasons not to be sad, then we can talk.”
He added, “Happiness is an illusion … just like love, in my opinion.”
Adding to the list of anonymous street artists whose stencil art covers the walls of Cairo is Keizer, who is only known by his hooded figure.
In an online interview with Danna Larch, he said “The fact that I can draw and display what I want when I want under the slightest whim of inspiration is truly artistic freedom through expression. There are no superiors to check my work, proofread it, edit or modify my work, I jump over the lines of censorship and social taboos when I desire,” adding: “My art is that slap on the face or that provocative element that will shove people out of their comfort zone.”
5. Alaa Awad
Unlike most street artists, Alaa Awad is active both in Cairo and Luxor, his hometown.
Awad’s approach differs from others as he prefers to work with a brush and acrylics rather than spray and stencils. Furthermore, he presents murals that may take from a few hours to a week to finish. They are mostly metaphors taken straight from the ancient Egyptian history.
“I don’t care about the police catching me,” he tells Alastair Sooke . “I just go out to paint something for the people in the street. I have to share my painting now. I can’t keep it.”