- Published on Friday, 05 October 2012 05:38
- Category: Art
The news a few nights ago that “someone” had painted over the Martyrs’ Mural on Mohamed Mahmoud street predictably aroused attention on social media; artists refusing to be erased returned immediately. A few on Twitter quickly pointed the finger at Morsi’s Islamist dominated government and read the destruction as evidence of the Muslim Brotherhood’s long-term plan to crack down on art and expression in line with conservative irreligious ideology. Some called it an attack on Egyptian pluralistic history - the images mixed Pharaonic, Christian and Muslim symbols. A walk along Mohamed Mahmoud Street, site of the Egyptian Revolution’s worst clashes between demonstrators and security forces, suggests a different interpretation. Rather than an imposition of Islamist moral values on the public realm, the eagerness to demolish the Martyrs’ Mural appears, to me, to be a calculated move to curtail possible protests—in short, politics as usual under an Egyptian regime that remains far from fulfilling promises of the revolution.
The rapid appearance of street art during the January 25th Revolution in Egypt, as well as its aftermath, have gained much rightfully-deserved media attention. The details above were, as one blogger puts it, simply a masterpiece. Beyond impressively high level of technique, the murals’ symbolic and emotional qualities served as a raw wound in staring Tahrir Sqaure in the face: the Port Said Massacre. In February 2012, a football match turned violent, and over 74 were killed; many attributed the killings to an orchestrated crime by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). Port Said’s security chief was recently acquitted on charges of firing on demonstrators during the revolution, as well as three officers under his command. Is it a coincidence that these emotionally-charged, beautifully expressive images of martyrs, and their mothers—done by admirers, friends and family—were erased at the same time as attention is fixated on anti-U.S. sentiment? I don’t think so. There’s more - on Monday, the Ultras Ahlawy announced their intentions to boycott matches until the killers of Port Said face justice. If you’re at all familiar with the Egyptian Revolution, you’re already well aware of the influence football clubs can have on the political scene.
Many other pieces of street art, celebrating everything from anti-sexual harassment campaigns, to Labor Unions, to Pharaonic art, were not erased—nearby the infamous Martyrs’ Mural. If it really were a question of image destruction for fundamentalist, anti-representational values, why is this? Another phenomenal piece of graffiti art used to face Tahrir Square but was removed about a month ago. This one depicts the anger many Egyptians feel at having to choose between two candidates in what they consider to be a sham election. The face of the Joker, underneath a military hat, leers while dangling presidential candidate on interlocked marionette strings. Egypt’s eagle has been replaced on the cap with a death’s head—an attack on the symbol of SCAF cropping up all over recent Cairo street art work in recent months. An extra level of text drives the message home: “Choose between the one who killed your brother.” Here, the point could not be made clearer: in these sham elections, the face may change—yet SCAF remains in control. The revolution continues.
Of course, the removal of the Martyrs’ Mural on Mohamed Mahmoud is not about Islamist ideology on the image – it’s much more sinister than that. It is, quite frankly, a blatant attack on the public space—but moreover, an attack on what memory in symbolically-charged public space has already done, can and might do again. It’s hardly a coincidence that at the same time, the government began a campaign to “beautify Tahrir Square,” planting grass where tents once stood. Whitewashing graffiti is one thing - after all, it’s an inherently ephemeral art. Whitewashing memory is much more complicated. If you think Egypt’s revolution is over, you’d better look closer.By Amanda Rogers, Aslan Media Contributing Arts Writer