Stencils with political themes are among the well-known – and widely practiced – art forms, especially during times of specific political oppression and change. Due to the often political character of many of these works, artists creating stencils usually keep their identities concealed, while the stencil-graffiti technique allows them to create pictures quickly and easily - an important quality, especially in countries where anti-authority graffiti is illegal.
As the Egyptian revolution ends its third week, the Downtown area of Cairo (bordering Tahrir square) shows a number of stencils imprinted in a variety of places. These stencils depict Mubarak’s face, accompanied by statements such as “Leave,” “Take a visa,” or “The people demand removal of the regime” etc.
Stencil art has been created from the very first day of the revolution on 25 January, and their creators have remained anonymous. Ahram Online talks to the Egyptian artists behind the Downtown stencils: Chico, 25 and Temeem, 28.
Chico and Temeem find inspiration in the every day events of the Egyptian people's revolution. “We participate in the protests, we talk to the people, we listen to them and use our art to transmit their claims to the public,” Chico told Ahram Online. “Every day of the revolution is different and every time we find new ideas for our work,” Temeem added.
“I did not graduate from any art school but I have been practicing art for many years. I love it and I can only express myself through this channel,” Chico, who also teaches art, told us. “I have always been interested in graffiti and stencils in particular. My work has not always addressed the political situation. I have expressed a variety of issues, including social grievances, on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. But the Egyptian government does not want to differentiate between political and non-political messages. They are not welcomed by the government, regardless of the topic.” Chico explains.
Temeem, a visual artist and painter who works in graphic design, joined Chico on the second day of the revolution, 26 January. Together Chico and Temmem concentrated on stencils only, finding them “fast and safe.” Temeem adds that they are also “a direct and strong means of transferring people’s ideas.”
“Today, everybody talks about politics. Being an artist, I need to respond to people and help make their voices even louder," Chico said.
"With our stencils we do not vandalise anyone's property. We place them on electricity boxes and lampposts," Chico continued.
Chico and Temeem do not expect any rewards or recognition, as they believe that the creation of the stencils is their understandable role in the revolution.
“We all ask for the same things. Artists are among the pro-democratic protesters and each one of them should use their skills to support the people and the revolution.”
“I am sure that people are happy seeing the stencils. I see them taking pictures of them quite often.” Chico commented. “In the last few days, I have noticed that there are other artists who create stencils and their works can be spotted in different corners of the city. This is wonderful. as everybody able to do something should not wait.”
Chico and Temeem's art has a very short life and is swiftly removed by the authorities. But they do not give up. “There are around eight to ten different stencils around the Downtown area and we will keep creating them, no matter how long they remain.”
Chico has been asked several times to create stencils on protesters’ t-shirts but at this stage this might not be possible as they have to stay away from the spotlight. “We are hoping to do something bigger very soon,” Temeem added.
In his conversation with Ahram Online, Chico stressed a very important message to all the pro-democracy protesters saying: “Do not give up! Keep fighting for democracy and for freedom of expression, regardless of the consequences.” Temeem added that “Whoever has an opinion should voice it now. It’s been too long we were submissive, now it’s time we speak up.”