Walls of Freedom

The spread from Walls of Freedom on "How to Revolt Intelligently"
by Ganzeer, January 27, 2011.
A few days ago I reread the agenda Nonviolent Struggle - 50 Crucial Points from 2006, when the Serbians took to the streets. The protests turned out to be cleverly orchestrated by the said agenda, calling itself a "Strategic Approach to Everyday Tactics". It is a handbook in all practical aspects of planning a public protest by non-violent means, such as organization and distribution of information, the use of verbal and visual means, on how not to be detected and caught - and not least on the use of humor.

The agenda has been distributed widely and used by new groups taking to the streets since 2006. I could not help thinking of it when seeing Ganzeer's "How to Revolt Intelligently" from the first days of the revolution in Egypt, on how to make it possible to take to the streets with the minimum of injury and arrest resulting from it.

The basic necessities when painting graffiti while being attacked by tear gas, not forgetting the rose
Ganzeer, "How to Revolt Intelligently", January 27, 2011

NeMo: Three years on we still only have one weapon,
January 21, 2014.
When I saw the 2006-document again, it struck me how much has happened in that short span of years mediawise. The social media makes it hardly recognizable today, just how we communicated just a few years back.

And yet, the uprisings in 2011 won their strength from combining one of the oldest means of communicating - writing on the walls surrounding us - with the platforms of the electronic media. It turned out to be not just a necessary, but an efficient strategy, as Rana Jarbou writes in her wonderful article in the gorgeous new book on the street art of Egypt of the past three years: Walls of Freedom.

The streets of Cairo lacked presence, as Rana Jarbou tell us. They contained a past, but not the present. The graffiti artists, of which Kareem Lotfy and Ganzeer were pioneers, took to the walls, creating what grew into an urban discourse

Walls of Fredom; Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution,
Witten by Don Karl and Basma Hamdy, 2014.
Published by From Here to Fame Publishing - from where it can be ordered.

A spread from Walls of Freedom on the first 18 days of revoultion
This is a rare book as can be detected from its cover. It is totally void of the names of its authors. They underline that the book belongs to all those who took part - the artists and photographers. Basma Hamdy and Don Karl began collecting the material as early as within the first 18 days, sensing that something very special was underway artistically. 

The book is so obviously created by two artists themselves. Each spread is layouted differently each time staging the story it contains, such as the width of two text columns on the very same page  differing wildly to make room for the inserted photos and quotations across the page - when do we ever see any layouter dare this? - while drips of color as if of extra paint creates the feeling of the surpluss of energy at that street scene of the time. 

Basma Hamdy and Don Karl have managed the impossible: How to document the many layers of political, personal and artistic outpourings, the developments, the set backs, the artistic initiatives and so much, much more, creating a progressive story closely linked to the specific dates, when each event took place. This alone will make the book an invaluable Encyclopedia of an important chapter in the art history of our time.

Section of the wall in Mohamed Mahmoud Street with at least three layers of graffiti,
the top layer is by Ammar Abu Bakr, captured March 27, 2014.
Photo: SOoOti eYes.

A wider wiev of the same section of the wall,
with the works of Ammar Abu Bakr as the top layers,
Photo: Abdelrhman Zin Eldin, December 5, 2013.
The composition of the book was not made any easier by the fact that the artists keep returning to the same walls, especially so when the fine artists too took to the street a year within the revolution, painting the portraits of those killed in the revolution.

By portraying the people they gave a special poignancy to the meaning of presence in the street, and even if the first layers have been replaced, they can still be seen when the light is right, as can be seen in the photo by SOoOti eYes. This one photo is the epitome of the Egyptian history of the past three years.

A spread from Walls of Freedom, the posters shown are by Ganzeer.

The mother of Mohamed Reda,
by his portrait painted by Naguib.
Mohamed Reda was only 19 when he was killed inside Cairo Uni,
murals becoming a means of creating a living memory for the lost ones.
Photo: Abdelrahman Elshamy, December 4, 2013.
Walls of Freedom is what we in Danish call a book of mammoth size even managing to convey the spirit of each stage of what has taken place.

"Imagine, wrote the Danish artist Frans Schwartz in a private letter around 1880, Tolstoy, Dostojevskij and Kropotkin are alive and writing this very instant in the history of mankind and I am their contemporary".

He and his friends were frenetically busy whenever a new book was published, grabbing it in the translation first at hand, usually the French or German ones, even devouring them in the translations, which came later to compare specific paragraphs. The authors constituted the genuine now, however painful the contents of their writings, on poverty or the wronged man, making their readers feel they were the imprisoned or starving ones.

It feels such a privilege that we now know what he meant. Aya Tarek, Ammar Abo Bakr, Abood, Ganzeer, NeMo, Naguib, Alaa Awaad, Mohammed Khaled - just to mention a few. Each of them with a very personal voice different from those of their colleagues and with an outstanding talent of which we have only seen the beginning.

Ammar Abu Bakr, the portrait of Bassem Mohsen at the corner at Mohamed Mahmoud Street,
Photo: Abdelrhman Zin Eldin, January 19, 2014.

All artworks and photos shown are courtesy of their artists and photographers and must not be reproduced without their permission.

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