Street art was born on the inner city walls of New York in the 1960s, as the civil rights movement was gaining momentum. 

“Urbanism is a part of the dialogue. The way street art elicits a reaction and shakes up mundane routine breaks up isolation,” artist Fathima - or Fats Patrol - told StepFeed.

“What I love about street art is that it’s accessible and it speaks to something that I think is in everybody in a world that is becoming increasingly impersonal,” she added.

"...kidnapped by people who do not necessarily pay respect..."

The distinct features of the movement, which was created by the socially neglected, challenges social conventions.

While companies are warming up to this new form of art and employing it to enhance their own brand image, very few governments have so far endorsed it.

However, with the recognition by commercial brands comes a whole different set of challenges. 

Some artists now feel that the movement “has been kidnapped by people who do not necessarily pay respect to the originators,” artist Just One told StepFeed.

“Now we feel that it has been taken over,” he said.

Therefore, it is not surprising that street art spread across the Middle East with the political turmoil that prevailed in 2010

The revolutions saw protestors across Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen use spray paint on the walls of their cities as a political weapon.

Among the first names to become globally recognized from the region’s street art scene is eL Seed. In the wake of the uprisings, the French-born artist dug deep into his Tunisian roots to bring a message of peace to the world.

“My work calls to the humanity of each of us. Arabic script touches your soul before it reaches the eyes. There is a universal beauty in it that you don't need to translate,” he told StepFeed.

"Street art is much more than just a pretty picture to decorate an area..."

The role that street art played in helping the people reclaim public spaces was very significant, marking pivotal moments in the region’s history.

“Street art is much more than just a pretty picture to decorate an area,” muralist Dina Saadi told StepFeed. 

“I feel that public art is very important for people to feel the attachment and ownership of a place.”

While people have a tendency of tagging public walls, streetwalkers rarely tag or ruin walls with murals, Dina told us.

“With street art, people feel that they have to protect the space, because it gives a sense of community and participation,” she adds.

This is particularly true in a place like Dubai, which is a transient stop for many expatriates and a new city for the local community, she said.

With this realization, the UAE government embarked on a couple of projects to create street art.

Back in 2014, Dubai’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan, commissioned Rehlatna - or Our Journey - a project that brought together regional and international artists to compete for the world’s longest graffiti wall. 

Once the 2.3 km scroll succeeded in breaking the Guinness World Record, it was dismantled.

"It was an amazing amazing experience," artist Gary Yong, who goes by the name Enforce One, told StepFeed.

"Even though the momentum was gone as soon as it was dismantled, with the experience I have gained, I will continue to contribute what I can to the city's art scene," he added.

Real Estate developers soon followed suit, including Al Ghurair Center, the City Walk and Karama

While their pursuit was of commercial interest, the art that they have created resonated with many Dubai residents.

"Right now, I think Dubai is on the cusp in terms of street art. It started developing its own voice," artist Dodi Riyahi told StepFeed.

"To kick-start that, Dubai flew in a lot of talent from abroad. Everyone thinks that there is no street art in Dubai, which is a fair assumption to make," he added.

Thus, local artists were offered few opportunities to contribute since the main focus was to import big names from abroad.

Graffiti artist Sya One told us that at first, he was not very happy about it. 

“Then I got to thinking about it as an outsider. My conclusion was that every artist has their own unique style that brings something to the masses," he said.

"...we are capable."

As for contemporary visual artist Saif Chilmiran, who grew up in Abu Dhabi, he believes that international artists were invited due to the small number of local talent. 

Yet, he feels that there should be “more faith in UAE's artists as we are capable,” he told StepFeed.