Walls of Freedom, a new book currently seeking funding on Indiegogo, offers a striking view of the role of street art during the Egyptian Revolution, as seen through the eyes, art, and words of those who lived—and continue to live—through the volatile transition. “The visual landscape of many cities has become a commercial space. Direct, raw messages like the ones here are rare and really capture a nation’s struggle for freedom,” co-editor Basma Hamdy tells Co.Design.
Though the violent initial clashes in January 2011 set in motion the events that would oust President Hosni Mubarak, Hamdy says the situation may actually be worse now than it was back during those intense early days. “There are frequent power cuts, petrol shortages, muggings on the street, sexual harassment, and other major problems facing people living their day to day lives.” As such, the authors’ biggest challenge came from their desire to make the book more than just a fleeting glimpse of an ongoing struggle. Rather than organizing the book by artist or subject, they took on the monumental task of creating a timeline of sorts to show how art and politics fed into each other. This meant tracking down specific shots of particular works—many of which had already been censored or painted over—taken by photographers who often risked their lives to preserve the moment.
When they began, they enrolled in a tedious, intimate process of asking friends of friends and really anyone at all for morsels of information about the provocateurs and documentarians they were after. In the end, they managed to include the efforts of more than 50 photographers and 30 artists in the collection.
In addition to the visuals, providing context and smart analysis was essential to making the book a comprehensive testimonial. “It wasn’t enough for us to show photos and dates,” Hamdy says. “It was extremely necessary to analyze every aspect of the street art movement.” They invited Egyptologists and art historians to discuss its cultural roots and larger role in the revolution, while activists and artists shared insights and stories that bridge the gap between the personal and political.
This vivid record is a fitting tribute to the lasting effects of ephemeral art, immortalizing those who made their mark. “We lost many beautiful people to the revolution, but there was always a sense of hope," Hamdy says. "It was horrible, but here was a sense of euphoria, patriotism, and unity. I think anyone who values life, love, dignity and freedom will value this book.” As political developments continue to unfold, perhaps the book will serve as a useful model for documenting and commenting on the revolution.