Mickey Mouse is pulling apart a bomb: inside is the torso of George W. Bush, and they’re both looking perfectly happy about the whole thing. Soraya Moreyef is taking a photo of the wall where these figures are painted, on a busy street in downtown Cairo, when a man walks up to her and asks her what the picture means.
‘I think that’s Mickey Mouse,’ I say helpfully.
‘Yes but what does it mean? And who is that man next to him?’
He’s bald with a graying walrus moustache, probably in his mid-forties, his full cheeks sweating as he fans at his pin-striped pink shirt.
‘I’m not quite sure,’ I say politely, wishing I could go back to my camera, but he appears adamant for an answer. ‘Maybe it’s a president? It could be George Bush.’
‘Yes but what is George Bush doing with Mickey Mouse? I like this picture, I walk past it every day, but I wish there’d be some writing explaining it so that I could understand.’
The man traps her against the wall, in conversation, telling her he was in Tahrir Square (a stone’s throw away from where they are standing) every day of the uprisings, “one of the shabab of the revolution…”. Eventually, after he has given her his number, he leaves, and she recommences her task, cataloguing the street art in Cairo, a city in which graffiti has flourished since 2011, but where the wall may have been white-washed the next morning.
Moreyef is a journalist and writer based in Cairo. Since June 2011 she has been blogging at suzeeinthecity.wordpress.com, where she posts images of street art, with captions and analysis. The same urgent questions — of graffiti and gender, intimidation and interpretation — resurfaced, as urgent as ever, in a recent post, ‘Women in Graffiti: A Tribute to the Women of Egypt’, on the participation of women in making graffiti on the walls of Egyptian streets.
The artists mentioned include Aya Tarek (“one of the pioneers of graffiti in Egypt”), Hend Kheera (“the first Egyptian graffiti artist to be profiled by Rolling Stone”), Bahia Shebab (an artist and art historian behind the project, A thousand times no), Mira Shihadeh, Laila Magued (more of her work here), the Nooneswa collective, and Hanna El Degham, whose work on the wall of the Lycee Moreyef describes as “one of the most astounding street artworks I have seen in Egypt.” The article also includes images of the tributes — by artists Alaa Awad, Keizer, Zeft and Amr Nazeer, X4SprayCans and Ammar Abo Bakr — to Egyptian women, their role in the protests, works made in outrage at the men who have harrassed and attacked them.
The world has been fascinated by the explosion of graffiti in Egypt, and the walls have become signifiers for revolutionary desires, and the street a place where art makes demands of its public, everyday. The precariousness of this art makes Moreyef’s catalogue of images necessary, and it has become the visual archive of an emancipatory politics, expressions of hope for a country in which women are not violated everyday.