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Cairo Journals 2012 — 2 — Kalaam Faregh

There is an Egyptian phrase called kalaam faregh. Translated, it means ‘empty talk’.

One of the main reasons for my return was to discover the new culture scene in Cairo I had been hearing so much about from Germany. Over the year, I had attended, organised and participated in many events in Berlin related to the new voice that the Egyptian people had found. However, after a year of talking and spectating, I felt that much of what I was saying was repeating what I had picked up from the internet or other people without an opinion of my own about them. In other words, kalam faregh.

Luckily, my talk was about to become filled, in some fashion and I was about to farragh some new kalaam. Farragh has another meaning.

One of my main interests in ongoing Cairo has been the street art scene. Or graffiti scene. In pythonesque manner, a war of walls has erupted. The factions involved in the ongoing democratic process have revived a long tradition of leaving your mark wherever you go. Going back to kaabas and pilgrimage paintings, Egypt is decorated and enriched by many murals, some dating back centuries. They depict journeys and names, childrens wishes and beloved ones. 

Also an ancient tradition is the cutting and painting of stencils. They declaim, in the aftermath of Mad Graffiti Week, demonstrations and marches, the wishes of the sha'b (people) and multiply it easily and efficiently through spray paint and manpower, not excluding the Egyptian women from the activity. 

Ammar, Alaa, Hanna, Nil and the Boys have done some indescribable work there, putting all of their energies and enthusiasm into turning Streets into a cat-and mouse game with the white paint chasing the coloured paintings. Sitting with them and just listening to many stories of artistic battles they have won or lost. Mustamerra, as they say. 

I do hope the walls on Mohammad Mahomoud remain preserved to us all. So much argument has gone into them, both on the streets and on off, so many people involved by their presence and the work and discussion about them that the street should be declared an art zone. But more on that later. 

Farragh, in an arts context means to clear. A knife is used on a predawn shape, preferably on a thick piece of paper to free a section you wish to paint over. This is then applied to a surface of your choice. The paint leaves an impression on the surface. This is called a stencil. 

On a wall blocking a street, you will hopefully find a group of Munaqqabat with Minis. They may be joined by others and in different locations, but for now a small piece of kalaam has been left on the tetris blockades. If you see it, it means that those blocks are still there.*


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