Around the world, graffiti causes mixed reactions, celebrated as an art form by some and viewed as a sign of urban decay by others.
Before Egypt's January 25 revolution, it was possible to see graffiti occasionally on the streets of Cairo. Since the first days of that revolution, however, the movement has spread not just around Cairo, but also all over most of Egypt's big cities. Walking the fine line between art and simple free expression on a wall, many Egyptian artists have been joining this movement and spray painting our city walls with revolutionary messages aiming to stimulate reflection and to stir conversation.
“The people who run our cities don’t understand graffiti, because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit,” writes renowned graffiti artist and director of ‘Exit Through the Giftshop’ Banksy in the introduction to his book Wall and Peace.
“Graffiti is about expressing, not about refined art,” Adham Bakry, a 29-year-old Egyptian visual artist said. “It’s all subjective. The idea of graffiti can be provocative, subtle or direct. It's a form of public communication, empowering people to speak up.” Bakry is responsible for different street art around Cairo, including images La Vache Qui Rit and Afaf Shoeb’s Pizza.
Who dictates which messages enter the public space? Is it corporations, governments, people? What are the criteria of getting your message seen in public space? Does it have to be beautiful? Challenging? Or does it simply need to make a profit?
With those questions in mind, the coming screening of Exit Through the Giftshop cannot be more timely.
Exit Through the Giftshop has been called “somewhere between a film and a documentary”, a “mockumentary” and simply “revolutionary”. In Banksy’s first feature film, he follows around Mr. Brainwash, an eccentric French filmmaker and graffiti artist residing in LA, with his film crew. Mr. Brainwash as the main subject of the film was never planned.
In fact, it was Mr. Brainwash who was trying to film Banksy, when Banksy decided the artist was a far more interesting subject and turned the camera on him. The filmmakers had about 10,000 hours of raw footage which was taken while filming graffiti in the making. This footage was then edited and put together into a feature-length film.
Released in March 2010, Exit Through the Giftshop won the Toronto Film Critics’ Best First Feature Film, was featured in numerous film festivals around the world and was nominated for Best Documentary Film in this year’s Academy Awards. Banksy, to maintain his anonymity, did not attend any of these ceremonies. He did, however, send a letter to the Sundance Film Festival that was read on stage.
Exit Through the Giftshop will be screened this Wednesday, 5 October at 7 pm, at The Townhouse Gallery in Cairo, in Hussein El Memar Pasha Street, Downtown Cairo.