Revolutionary art: the writing on the wall
Thousands of Egyptians will protest tomorrow to mark the anniversary of President Morsi’s first year in power. The street art of Bahia Shehab has played an unlikely role in the revolution
Shehab says street artists support each other. When another emerging street artist’s work was partially erased, she went to the spot and surrounded the space with her own stencils. “There are these ongoing conversations,” she says.
So far the police have been relatively tolerant of street artists. “This weekend a police car stopped for the first time. I think it was because I had a German film crew with me. They said, ‘Art is fine, camera is a problem.’ One of the policemen even helped me to spray. I told them I was working on a sexual-harassment campaign. I said, ‘Would you like that to happen to your mother or sister?’ . . . They don’t think we’re dangerous.”
Others have not been tolerated. “We’ve had one journalist killed by a bullet in the street because he wrote an article about the current president and corruption, and we’ve had another activist who managed an online page against the government [who was] drowned in his car . . . I try not to think about these things . . . What is important is the final aim, which is that we stabilise the country and we turn it into what we want it to be.”
She worries about state reprisals for a protest planned for tomorrow, to mark the first year in power of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Shehab is not aligned with any political party and works alone, but her work can be found adorning the Facebook profiles of a generation of young Egyptian activists, particularly young women.
Shehab is modest about her influence. “Doctors can heal and lawyers can get [activists] out of prison. As an artist my only tool is art so, as stupid and superficial as it might be, I just want to contribute.”
She thinks we should all contribute, that top-down solutions are for another era. “As citizens of the world we should be the source of change; we should never wait. However small, even if it’s only cleaning your backyard, be the centre of change and don’t wait for change to come to you.”