THE BLOG

Capturing Egypt's Revolutionary Graffiti

Egypt has now had two revolutions in two and a half years, and those events have left much more than just immense change and uncertainty in their wake. They have also left much of Egypt blanketed in some of the most intriguing, insightful, and inspiring political graffiti in the world.

A new photography project, entitled Revolutionary Graffiti, now aims to capture and preserve some of that ephemeral art that continuously ebbs and flows alongside some of the world's most ancient art and artifacts just meters away.

I first laid eyes on Egypt more than ten years ago when I moved there for the first time as a young undergraduate student at the American University in Cairo. Then, just over two decades into former president Hosni Mubarak's reign, there was no serious talk of revolution or even any serious hope for reform of Mubarak's corrupt regime.

I was also in Egypt seven years later in early January of 2011, and still there was no palpable sense of revolution in the air. That's why, beginning just two weeks after I left, I watched in amazement from afar as millions of ordinary Egyptians defied their dictator and took to the streets to demand his ouster. Although tensions had been brewing below the surface for quite some time, it seemed as if a spark had ignited and the country just exploded within a very short window of time.

The 2011 revolution was an unfathomable, unprecedented event in Egypt, but the sense of possibility that it awoke within the Egyptian people was definitely palpable. When I returned to Cairo in January of 2012 for the anniversary of the revolution, I found a very different Egypt than the one I had left just a few weeks before the outbreak of mass demonstrations. Ordinary Egyptians were finally politically engaged, unafraid, outspoken, and active like I had never seen or imagined before.

As a new wave of political expression swept the country, I found that a new form of artistic political expression -- revolutionary graffiti -- had also enveloped Egypt's cities. Fascinating, elaborate, and strange caricatures of Egypt's ruling elites and the forces of oppression abutted depictions of protestors and demonstrators as angelic beings and heroic resisters, all of which loomed over the public squares and streets in which history continued to be made.

A favorite spot of political graffiti artists were the buildings, walls, and blockades surrounding Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of revolutionary activity and fervor. But as I spent time outside of Cairo in Egypt's other towns and cities, I found equally tantalizing political graffiti there too. All too often, however, within a week or two of a scene going up it would be covered by another spray-painted scene or whitewashed and erased from history altogether.

At the time, this revolutionary graffiti made for interesting backdrops for photos and videos, but it wasn't until I left Egypt for the last time that the thought occurred to me that these scenes were worth being photographed in their own rite. Egypt's revolutionary graffiti was telling the story of the revolution in a way that words and even video simply could not.

Time is of the essence now that a second revolution recently occurred in Egypt. As the country rallies and mobilizes again in anticipation of a lively and deeply meaningful march towards a democratic reset, Egyptians will continue to express their emotions, feelings, hopes, fears, anger, dreams, and self-images in artful representations across the expanses of the country's open spaces.

Perhaps this time all of that inspiring revolutionary graffiti can finally be captured, preserved, and given its rightful place in Egypt's long-evolving political story.