Hajj graffiti in Upper Egypt

Mahmoud El-Dosokki , Wednesday 23 Sep 2015

Ahram Online talks to some of Egypt's original and authentic hajj graffiti artists about past traditions and changing times

hajj graffitti
Photo: Anas Abdel Qader

Hajj graffiti has changed greatly in recent decades. Ahram Online spoke to a selection of original hajj graffiti artists, to remember the past and compare it to the present.

hajj graffitti 1
Photo: Anas Abdel Qader

Hajj (the Muslim pilgrimage) has always been a grand occasion in Egyptian social history. Those lucky enough to go to Mecca are blessed with the title "Hajj," which in social terms means they are people of deep faith. The ceremony of the Hajj on the village level is associated with folk music and chants to see off the pilgrim, as well as food and beverages for the long journey to Mecca. The ceremony has also traditionally meant colourful paintings that bless the house of the hajj with holy religious motifs that mark the date that he was blessed with undertaking the pilgrimage.

hajj graffiti 2
Photo: Anas Abdel Qader

The paintings of local artists on the houses of those who performed hajj constitute a timeline of social history where at the beginning artists were free to draw icons such as the prophets Ismail and Ibrahim, the Prophet Mohammed disciples, and angels, up until the 1970s when such drawings became more toned down as they were prohibited by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists during the period of the expansion of their social influence.

hajj graffiti 3
Photo: Anas Abdel Qader

According to artist Anas Abdel Qader, a hajj painter, Mohamed Rashad El-Safi, who died in 1976, was one of the key artists of Faw village in Qena governorate, and whose artwork is affiliated with carving on wood and door entrances, many of which sadly perished. Another artist was Abdalla Khalaf (1909-2003), who started painting in the early 1950s, along with the calligrapher Rashed Ibrahim (1940-2000). "Every village had it's own signature artist, which makes every village as unique as the artists that draw on the walls," Abdel Qader notes.

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Photo: Anas Abdel Qader

According to Mohamed Abdu, a hajj graffiti artist who started painting in the 1970s, the old paintings — despite their modesty and simplicity and limited colours — conveyed much of the essence of that era in Upper Egypt. In contrast to today's hajj graffiti, which is designed on computer and then printed on big banners and hung on walls, and that does not show any of the Upper Egyptian festivity rituals that included people blowing the mezmar (a flute like instrument), the flags of Egypt and Sauid Arabia, the hajj train, and the pigeon of Hiraa cave, which is affiliated with the migration (hijra) of the Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Yathrib.

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Photo: Anas Abdel Qader

"In the old days the artists were authentic and true to their profession," explained Abdel Qader. "With their simple tools comprised of a hand-made brush off goat hair or palm trees, a painter would use colours extracted from the Nila dark blue flower, and brown. Then he would add eggs to prevent the colour from being washed off, and then some sugar to make it shine."

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Photo: Anas Abdel Qader

Old hajj graffiti portrayed women providing wheat seeds for the birds of the Holy Shrine (in Mecca), explained Abdu to Ahram Online, adding that the old school artist had to be also a calligrapher, for lots of poetry was painted on the houses of those who went on pilgrimage and women would chant songs while preparing the food supplies for the hajj journey.

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Photo: Anas Abdel Qader

As for today's artists, they depend mainly on digital images of the Holy Shrine, along with an airplane and that's it. Reason for why the old graffiti remains and artistic and social gem.

hajj graffiti 8
Photo: Anas Abdel Qader. Modern day graffitti



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