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  • 05.28.13

This Moving Street Art Helped Topple A Dictator During The Arab Spring

Street art is an ancient Egyptian tradition, but the new book Walls of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution shows how the Arab Spring uprising brought it back to life as a way to fight corruption.

During the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, the country’s young people didn’t just vocalize their political dissent; they recorded it on their cities’ walls with murals, posters, and graffiti. Politically charged street art is a tradition dating back to antiquity in Egypt, but a soon-to-be-published book, Walls of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution, documents the ways that the Arab Spring breathed new light into the medium, turning it into a tool to fight the country’s corrupt political system, both during and in the aftermath of the revolution.

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Featuring the work of 50 photographers and 30 artists, the image-heavy tome is a collaboration between art and design professor Basma Hamdy and graffiti artist and activist Don Karl (who previously co-authored the book Arabic Graffiti). Highlighted works include a “wanted” sign by artist Ammar Abou Bakr (created for a police-sniper notorious for aiming at protesters’ eyes), a mural protesting the country’s transition to military rule after Hosni Mubarak was ousted, and a Banksy-like mural by the aritst Ganzeer depicting a showdown between an army tank and a boy selling bread on his bicycle.

“What’s interesting is that artists who never created works on the streets used the streets as their outlet [during the revolution] because they felt that the media, which was controlled by the state, was biased and did not reflect what was happening on the streets and what the revolution was about,” Hamdy explained via email. “They used the streets to expose truths.”


Hamdy and Karl spent three years researching the street art movement and collecting materials for the project, which they’ll fundraise for using Indiegogo. “I want this story to be told by the artists and activists themselves,” writes Hamdy, who is an Egyptian living abroad and participated in the protests while visiting home. “I have seen many Western writers [and] journalists interested in writing about the revolution, but they rarely include the artists [or] activists in telling the story. […] I want this book to be accurate and document and catalogue the street art phenomenon, contextualize it, shed light on its history […] rather than simply put some photos together in a book.”

About the author

Zak Stone is a Los Angeles-based writer and a contributing editor of Playboy Digital. His writing has appeared in TheAtlantic.com, NYMag.com, Los Angeles, The Utne Reader, GOOD, and elsewhere.

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