Claudia Wiens : Changing Cityskapes

Posted on August 2, 2012 by

       Another mural in Cairo Downtown

Graffiti art in Cairo with a picture of Khaled Said who was beaten to death by police in Alexandria in June 2010. A well known Facebook group, ‘We are all Khaled Said’ brought attention to his death and contributed to growing discontent in the weeks leading up to the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Finally in October 2011, two Egyptian police officers were found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in prison for beating Said to death.

These photos are a small part, and just the beginning, of my new long-term project about post-revolution art and artists in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. They show quickly changing cityscapes: graffiti that appears and then often disappears again; relicts of the revolution like burned out buildings; flags waving a newly discovered national pride; and of course the protesters. The history, revolutions, and current political situation in all three countries are very different with many of the people’s demands not yet having been met. Also, people are having constantly changing feelings from disappointment and anger to euphoria or apprehension, but amongst this there is one common thing – people reclaimed the streets and express their emotions, demands and needs more freely than before. Artists turn to the streets, spray graffiti or paint murals and demonstrations take place regularly now. People feel more that they own the streets and public places again or maybe for the first time, which gives them a feeling of belonging and being able to play a part in the development of their country, contrary to the situation before the revolutions when most people often apathetically said, “I can’t change anything, I better keep quiet.”

A stencil by Keizer that reads “Capitalism” in a font known to everybody. Ironically this is the spot where these two, poor and sick women beg every day.

The ex-ruling National Democratic Party building in Cairo burned down during the first days of the revolution in 2011 and still remains untouched and a looming relic, like a reminder of what is possible when the people stand up.


People in the flag, sticker and t-shirt business definitely made a killing since Egyptians started to regain their national pride.

Ganzeer is one of the very active artists who gained quite a bit of popularity when he was briefly jailed by police when he was sticking the Freedom Mask sticker around Cairo in May 2011.

Nadia Khiari is the artist behind ‘Willis from Tunis’, a cartoon cat that she started drawing during the Tunisian revolution. She found emotional relief letting this naughty cat comment on the political events whilst she couldn’t meet friends and family as the curfew prevented them from leaving their homes. She published her cartoons on Facebook and became famous over night.

During and after the revolution many people entered the villas of Ben Ali and his extended family, like this house that belonged to Moncef Trabelsi a brother of Leyla, Ben Ali’s wife. Looters destroyed parts of the buildings and took things away. But also artists came and left their pictures, stencils, cartoons and messages. And they continue to do so ? It’s like a living history book.

Not necessarily every graffiti or tag that appears now is perhaps art. But this is maybe part of the experimental process of gaining freedom of expression.

Art dans la rue – Art dans le quartier (Street art , art in the quarter) was an event or rather a happening initiated by Tunisian artist, Faten Rouissi during which a huge number of burned out cars from the revolution were kind of beautified. The damaged, ugly cars were piled up in an empty field where Rouissi saw them and came up with an idea. Via Facebook she invited artists of all coleur, along with people from the neighbourhood, to come together and turn these cars in something colourful in order to express hope for the future and create a symbol of rebuilding. Dozens of people turned up and painted these car wrecks into something very vibrant. Now there is this one car left in front of the cathedral in Carthage.