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The Epic Murals of Tahrir,visualizing Artist

The Center for Translation Studies in partnership with the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at AUC were proud to host Ammar Abo Bakar, Alaa Awad, and Hanaa El Degham, the artists behind the epic murals on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, along with journalist Ahmed Aboul Hasan, for a discussion on the various meanings and functions of the murals adorning the iconic revolutionary site Mohamed Mahmoud Street. While the artists differed on their opinions of the meaning behind the murals and what they represent in the context of the Egyptian revolution, they discussed their reasons for taking part in the collaborative project. Aboul Hasan commented on the political significance of the murals as they evolved over the last two months. The discussion presents a multifaceted view of street art in the Egyptian revolution with each artist negotiating their individual positions in their collaborative work as it manifested on the periphery of Tahrir square.

Highlights from the Lecture

"It's not our position today to talk about beauty. Because basically we're here to talk about the reasons why we came and if we consider Muhamed Mahmoud Street to be the ‘Tomb of Tahrir.’ It is in fact part of our heritage. I know very well how the Egyptian citizen dealt with the idea of death and how he created his own tombs and, in a way, has also adorned the walls of these tombs with murals and paintings. So this is a kind of simulation of the ancient Egyptian tombs from one point of view. I took to the streets on the 28th of October. I was around before that. But this came as a part of a desire to participate; to turn this Muhamed Mahmoud Street into a tomb. And it was indeed. People reacted to it in that way because once we painted the image of one of the martyrs, some of his people, maybe his family, would come to the picture and read 'al-fatiha' from the Quran for that person's soul. So I feel that the main reason for painting these murals has indeed been achieved. And if you are interested, you can also go back to our background: the fact that we dealt with identity and heritage, was not born with the revolution. It has been a long process that we have been engaged with because we feel that the Egyptian village and the art of graffiti was born and has existed very solidly and strongly in the Egyptian village. Thirty or forty years ago, every village had their graffiti artist and that artist would depict and celebrate certain events such as the hajj. They would have certain symbols and images, and some of these images have been imported into the Muhamed Mahmoud Street murals as a way of reviving all of the defacement of the Egyptian art in the villages and all of the ugliness that the Egyptian village has gone through over the past years since the rule of Abdel-Nasser onwards; from when the village was losing its taste and its aesthetic sense."

Ammar Abo Bakr

"In fact, this second wave of the revolution, the Muhamed Mahmoud events, again evoked a feeling of maturity, or a sense of maturity amongst the Egyptian people. And it was actually a turning point, in the sense that people realized that what they receive in the media, and I don't make any exceptions, all the media, maybe with the exception of a few writers or a few contributors within certain channels. But they dealt with the events reflecting an absurd and a farcical outlook that didn't pay respect to the aspirations of the Egyptian people and to their view towards the future with regards to Egyptian music, Egyptian art. All of these were overlooked. And this is the feeling that the murals actually are trying to refute. The murals are the only true paper or channel of media for the revolution."

Alaa Awad

"When the events started to cool down, we started to pay attention to detail. And we started to revive the popular images in order to show Egyptians that we do have heritage and symbols that existed but we only need to revive them. And because we need this currently, we need this kind of communication with our heritage in order to be stronger and to face the defacement. It was sort of comforting for people to stop, see, communicate, and ask us why we are doing this, why are we painting, and ask us these questions and for us to respond to this. And in fact, Ammar was up to date with the constantly evolving political events. And at the same time, I want to say that I enjoyed drawing. I started doing stencil work though it wasn't as much fun as freehand painting. And in November and December, I was working in Luxor. I started this image of the gas cylinders because it was paradoxical. There was this crisis in the availability of gas cylinders and people were queuing and forming much, much longer queues waiting for a gas cylinder than the queues that were there for the elections. This inspired this image of the gas cylinders, and the people's suffering that was comparing to the people's elections that were going on at that time."

Hanaa El Dhegam

About the Speakers

Ammar Abo Bakr is an artist who came from Luxor to Cairo in October 2011 after the clashes in Maspero. He painted the Lost Eyes mural on Mohamed Mahmoud Street later that year. His portraits of the Port Said martyrs have drawn hundreds to the street in a public dialogue about protest and the role of youth in Egypt’s future. Abo Bakr considers the murals “a call to finish the Revolution.”

Alaa Awad came from Luxor in February 2012 to expand the mural project with Pharaonic drawings modified to reflect the street’s significance in the revolution as the “tomb of Tahrir.” Using the symbols and history of Ancient Egypt as inspiration, his paintings urge reflection on power, leadership and resistance. Both Abo Bakr and Awad teach at the Luxor Fine Arts College.

Hanaa El Degham is an Egyptian artist who works between Egypt and Germany. She came to Cairo in February 2012 to collaborate on the murals. Her paintings on Mohamed Mahmoud Street express the continued struggle for the basic needs of the Egyptian majority in the midst of the revolution.

Ahmed Aboul Hassan is a journalist who has covered the Revolution extensively and the developments on Mohamed Mahmoud Street in particular.

For more on the Mohamed Mahmoud Murals see:

Mona Abaza, “The Art of Narrating the Egyptian Revolution: An Interview with Alaa Awad,” Jadaliyya,” April 18, 2012, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/5134/the-art-of-narrating-the-egyptian-revolution_an-in
Mona Abaza, “An Emerging Memorial Space? In Praise of Mohamed Mahmoud Street,” Jadaliyya, March 10, 2012, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/4625/an-emerging-memorial-space-in-praise-of-mohammed-mo

To view the lecture click here