Stickers, scribbles, tags, stencils, pasted papers, paintings, and graffiti’s layered the walls of the streets in the cities at the time the Egyptian revolutionary uprisings unfolded. The images signed a reclamation of the streets, an activation of public space, and a participation in determining the image of a contested space by its citizens. The streets became a collage of juxtaposing positions mirrored in the colouring of the walls by artists, the whitening of the walls by the state and the public political debates it initiated.
While the revolution opened up this potentiality, today the access to create street art on walls is walled in, either in galleries, the private sphere, or in the intimate space of the mind of the artists waiting for access, a freedom to create in the streets. The platform for expression is today only open to the love couple of capitalism and the state. Advertisement is the face of the former, the face of the President the face of the latter. Street art is given no face in public space, except as a memorial, a face of a past that has to stay in the past, or as a remembrance by its cover of white paint.
The practices of street art during the revolution in this sense articulated not only a demand for freedom of expression, but also a demand for the material conditions and infrastructural goods, a demand for an inhabitable ground for art in Egypt. The access to the street for artists cannot be taken for granted. The street cannot be taken for granted as a space for art. The walls of the streets need first to be accessible before the act of creating street art can happen. If we talk about street art, we already presume access to the street. But in Egypt, the street artists are without streets, without a canvas.
Beyond the Lines
Beyond The Lines (BTL), a new Belgian platform for calligraffiti (the symbiose between Arabic calligraphy and graffiti or street art), offers access to the street to international street artists who have been denied access to the streets in their countries. Current situations, such as the ones in Egypt, prove that a platform celebrating street art, such as BTL, are firmly needed since street art is a contested art form in different countries in the Middle-East and North Africa.
A street art festival, the screening of relevant documentaries, talks with street artists, masterclasses and other events incorporated in the platform of BTL are examples of how the platform invites the public to actively discover the different faces of calligraffiti. Calligraffiti is a refreshing way of making art with century old traditions, but also an artistic instrument used in several revolutionary protest movements throughout the Middle-East and North Africa, and now being a challenged form of street art.
On the 28th and 29th of September, the city of Ghent is organising a street art festival called ‘Sorry, Not Sorry’. VOEM member and Belgian calligraffiti-artist DemaOne invited two international artists to make calligraffiti-murals during this festival
The first artist Belal Khaled is a calligraffiti artist from Gaza. He was one of the first graffiti activists in Palestine, where he founded the Gaza Graffiti Team.
Belal worked together with Chinese artivist Ai Weiwei for the documentary Human Flood. He also made big calligraffiti murals in Zimambabwe, Istanbul and in refugee camps near the Syrian-Turkish border.
The second artist MeenOne is a Tunesian calligraffiti artist who founded the Daily Grind Studio. MeenOne works together with social-artistic organisations to empower youth through Hiphop culture.
MeenOne combines a hardcore lettering style with elements from Arabic Calligraphy. The combination of these elements evocates a style where East and West meet.
Both artists offer the public a glimpse of their work with a mural in the old harbour of Ghent. They also participate in a talk about street art during the Arabic uprisings and offer masterclasses. Information about the festival can be found here : https://www.facebook.com/events/424830011574664/