New layer of anti-election street art on Mohamed Mahmoud Street walls

Rowan El Shimi, Thursday 31 May 2012

Where Cairo saw some of its toughest street battles, new art appears showcasing the mothers of the martyrs, and encouraging people not to vote in presidential elections

New layer of Graffiti on Mohamed Mahmoud (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

On top of the graffiti of the martyrs of the Port Said football massacre, which was itself painted on top of a layer of pro-revolution, anti-establishment stencils, new emotionally wrapped paintings now appear showing mothers of martyrs in black, mourning the state of what their offspring died for, reflected in the presidential elections first round results.

Mohamed Mahmoud Street saw an epic battle between protesters and the police last November; a battle where many lives, eyes, and other physical abilities were lost.

Artists Ammar Abu Bakr and Alaa Awad, who hailed on Cairo from Luxor after the Port Said football stadium attacks in February, started painting during clashes between protesters and police forces with the help of volunteers and other artists. Their mural for the revolution commemorates the martyrs and condemns the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

When the first round of election results was broadcast, revolution supporters, the injured, and families of the martyrs were left devastated by the choice for the upcoming run-offs: Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister with a military history, and Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, who represents a group that revolutionaries regard as traitors, opportunists and non-trustworthy.

Many on social media sites said the election results show how much the revolution achieved: close to nothing. The general sentiment is a mix of anger, regret and dismay. That is what the new layer of the mural captures, with the mothers of the martyrs in black, sobbing and disapointed, and the words, "Forget what happened and keep going after the elections," painted in bold black, with the Arabic dots on top of letters left empty, signifying foreseen future martyrs.

This new layer was added by Ammar Abu Bakr, who is responsible for the layer that came before it with portraits of the Port Said martyrs. He was accompanied by a group of volunteers.

"What we are doing has another philosophical element to it: that we are coming to paint over the martyrs images," Abo Bakr told activist Gigi Ibrahim who filmed the artists as they worked and uploaded the video to YouTube. "People forgot the image of the martyr and are only uploading images of the candidates."

The American University in Cairo, which owns the wall that was painted on, protected the mural by painting a layer of varnish over the martyrs murals, vowing to keep the art. The university even invited the artists to give a lecture on campus. But two days before the presidential elections kicked off, the Cairo governorate sent workers to paint over the walls. They managed to paint over part of the wall, but were eventually stopped by AUC staff. The painted over art was swiftly replaced the very same day with new graffiti depicting the current state of the country.

Graffiti is not made to be an everlasting masterpiece. It is made to envoke reactions and communicate timely messages. This is probably not going to be the last we hear of street art on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, with its walls carrying the signature of an ongoing revolution.

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