Photo: Amr Abdallah Dalsh (Egypt)
Seventy-five years ago, in 1941, George Orwell published a book of critical essays titled All Art is Propaganda in which he wrote, “This is a political age. War, Fascism, concentration camps, rubber truncheons, atomic bombs, etc., are what we daily think about, and therefore to a great extent what we write about, even when we do not name them openly. We cannot help this. When you are on a sinking ship, your thoughts will be about sinking ships.”
The tragedy of humanity is that he was not speaking exclusively to his own time or place, but speaking to the very nature of the cycle of war that we continuously face. Depending how close the battle hits home, some of us may be charged to pick up arms. But not all warriors nor weapons are made alike; where some pick up guns, others take up art, remembering the old proverb, “The pen is mightier that the sword,” for the simple fact that art lives after we die, whereas dead flesh never returns.
Under Control by Nafir (Iran)
On January 25, 2011, the Egyptian Revolution swept in, on the heels of Arab Spring, ousting President Hosni Mubarak through non-violent civil resistance, civil disobedience, and strikes. In the void, the military came to power, suspending the Constitution, dissolving the Parliament, and enacting martial law that was performed obscene acts. In response, some people took to the walls, communicating information to the resistance via graffiti.
Meanwhile in Iran, graffiti played a role in calling out the government after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. In both countries, the penalties were severe, but as with any war, the fight for justice will not bow down to the threat of death. For some, graffiti is nothing more than vandalism, not to be taken seriously; for others, it is a scourge that must be cleansed, lest its message reach an audience of like minds. It is the latter group that seeks to control free thought, lest it pose a viable challenge to its authority.
photo by Hassan Emad Hassan_ artist Omar Fathy aka Picasso
In this way, we can consider graffiti a political act, an anonymous voice willing to speak truth to power despite the consequences. In honor of these efforts, New Art Exchange, Nottingham, UK, presents Fighting Walls: Street Art in Egypt and Iran, on view now through December 18, 2016. The exhibition presents more than 100 artworks, ranging from activist graffiti to government-commissioned murals in Cairo and Tehran, exploring the ways that a new generation of socially engaged artists use graffiti as a weapon.
Melanie Kidd, Director of Programmes at NAE, explains, “Through thought-provoking and often beautiful imagery, Fighting Walls creates a refreshing and accessible means of connecting with the political struggles facing the people in both Iran and Egypt; important narratives that can be lost on the West, as we become numb to the onslaught of media coverage of the Middle East…. Fighting Walls celebrates the bravery of those that continue to take to the streets to campaign for justice and change on behalf of the people, markedly defining the role of artist as activist.”
Joseph Gerges_ Artist Omar Fathy aka Picasso (Egypt)
Fighting Walls reminds us that the power is within our hands; we can accept the status quo and be complicit to injustice, or we can speak truth to power and fight for freedom.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.