Last year’s Arab Spring led to a number of regime changes in the Middle East (Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Egypt) and dramatic shifts in the political landscape across the Arab World. In our modern image-sharing World it was no surprise that Western newspapers were publishing politically relevant street art from across the region.
Modern street art (i.e. with non-traditional techniques, messages and ideals) is quite new in many parts of the Middle East, although the early progression in terms of technique is greatly complemented by strong political messages and the desire for change (this is not to say that there is a lack of talented artists in the region or those living further afield with Arab roots – see the stunning photos in the book Arabic Graffiti, reference at the end).
As street art becomes increasingly editorially relevant, we felt it was a good opportunity to interview a young street artist from Egypt: Nemo.
My friends call me Nemo
Sections in square brackets are editor’s notes, added for context.
My name is Nemo, I’m 21 and I come from Mansoura in [North East] Egypt. I became interested in graffiti from the internet. I saw some pieces by famous street artists like Banksy and I had been drawing since my childhood. I know some materials and techniques and I started making graffiti in the streets at the end of 2008. I prefer to paint in highly visible places like big streets where a large number of people pass.
The ‘new age’ of graffiti started in Egypt in 2007, with the Ultras Movement [Ultras are the hardcore group of football fans often viewed as hooligans who became more politically inclined and increasingly important in the uprisings]. There were political and social graffiti pieces before the Egyptian Revolution; these pieces were done to describe our anger with the old system and its injustice and violence.
Before the revolution we had political awareness but not at the level we had after the revolution. I wasn’t part of any political movement but I’m happy because I was part of the revolution from the very first day, in the name of [a free] Egypt.
Before the revolution we were painting messages about the problems in our political system: rising prices, violence, etc. At the start of the revolution we had an important role calling people to participate and we described the demands of the rebels. After the important part of the revolution (the first 18 days) we now help some of state institutions; we also highlight the problems in bad institutions.
After the revolution we continued what we started but for new purposes, like making the people know what graffiti means.
Topics I highlight in my pieces include: problems with SCAF [Supreme Council of Armed Forces] – they lie as they breathe; freedom against military trials; the martyred student Alaa Abd Elhady; famine in Somalia; the first martyr in Mansoura named Mohamed Gamal Selim; Ahmed Hararah – the most famous casualty of the revolution [Ahmed was a dentist blinded in both eyes after being shot with rubber bullets on two separate occasions]; our fake media.
In general most of my pieces are directed to the normal man on the street, who does not have the means to buy a newspaper or to watch political or social programs on TV. I consider myself the media for these people!
Different people react differently to my art in Egypt nowadays. Some people may remove or scratch the piece and sometimes they remove bricks from the wall. This can actually make me happy because I’m succeeding in reaching people with my message! On rare occasions people draw other pieces beside my piece too.
Today in Egypt there are graffiti crews / groups in Cairo and Luxor. I think graffiti in Egypt is here to stay – this is an underground art form and we broadcast our messages to the people and the police.
Like any Egyptian person I love my country. I make my art for my country because the graffiti is Egypt is still a critique, in contrast to abroad where they draw for other topics like hip-hop.
- Arabic Graffiti book: www.fromheretofame.com/books/arabic.html