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What is a MeMu?

After a long, self-imposed hiatus on writing and publishing any news on this blog, current events lead me back to this space. Racking my brain what I would write about, and after many unpublished attempts at expressing what happens in a mind that is slowly putting itself back together again, it is research that leads to this post, the first in a series of hopefully many to come.

Over the last three years, I have written a lot about social uprisings, personal reflections on societal change and a whole load of nonsense- I stand by it fully- reflecting my state of mind at the time. This year, 2014, has been full of activity and action. It has been, from my personal perception, one of the most special years of my life, due to a number of personal and professional developments, regressions and decisions. Never mind this year and the past, welcome, dear reader to the here and now, enriched by those memories and framed by the experiences of the abovementioned years.

"If graffiti would change anything, it would be illegal" The question to ask is maybe: what does it change?

In the heat of events, it is almost impossible to step back and reflect on what you have been witnessing. One of the main foci that has shaped my experiences over the past years- readers who have been following this for a while will know this- is my interactions with street art scenes in Germany and Egypt. At the end of 2013, along with friends, we initiated a project called infiltri- now somewhat defunct- to document the topics discussed in street art. I have taken part and led street art workshops with children and refugees, written on the streets of Cairo and other cities. It has not always been easy, or fulfilling, to follow this interest, but it did lead to the question above: what, indeed, is a MeMu?

MeMu is a research project which began in Berlin 2012 and carried over into many other cities I have had the pleasure- and occasional pain- to visit over the past two years. One of the activities I engage in when travelling, is the documentation of local street art scenes. Having taken part in Mad Graffiti Week Berlin, I became aware of the changing nature of the spread of social messages online and off, realising the interpollination between those two spheres- the online could not be separated from the offline anymore, and actions in one space was mirrored by a reaction in another. The momentum generated through the interaction between those two spheres is global and very visible- if you read the writing on the wall.

Working on the book "Walls of Freedom" with Don and Basma, the significance of street art as part of any social movement became apparent, both as a means of communication- a grass-roots medium, if you will- and as a vehicle to the creation of spaces of offline meaning. Much reading and research followed, leading me, amongst others, to one Richard Dawkins and his "Selfish Gene". In this book, written in 1976, before the internet, digital photography or, indeed street art, had entered the mainstream of our lives, Dawkins discusses genetics and culture in the same breath- a gene is framed as a virulent idea that seeks to survive and adapts to its current environment.

Street art works much in the same way. Once created, it survives its environment and replicates out of it, creating a new understanding with every person it reaches. Never knowing what the persons' context is- something termed the invisible public by danah boyd- means that once an image of street art hits the web, it will mutate in unexpected ways, if not as an image, then as a part of our perception of a culture. The author never knows how the work will be interpreted, or how it will continue to spread, sometimes within the space of a globalised day, which ideas it might spark or whose ire it might elicit.

Offline, though every street artist hopes for the creation of a space of meaning around their work, they do not know how it will be accepted, or when it will be erased. Two examples for this kind of space come to mind readily- Mohammad Mahmoud street in Cairo and Exarchiea in Athens. Though both are located in central parts of their city, they are, through the presence and preservation of street art, marked as alternative territories of ideology. The inhabitants of those areas fight to preserve these murals, as they feel they represent, both artistically and spatially, their ideals.

The online attention given to these spaces adds a performative aspect to street art that goes beyond the action of expressing your opinion in public space. Even though a single artwork may be erased, it continues to carry the meaning of its existence and former presence. Spaces, once marked, are identified globally as a "world" of meaning (world refers to one Jean-Luc Nancy, whose thoughts from beyond the grave are an influence on the research), which exists either within, or without our understanding of it. Faced with the fact of its unmitigated existence, how do we react to this space of meaning? How do the creators- artists, activists, etc.- uphold the world once they have created it? What happens when an outside force, with an understanding alien to that world, enters it and attempts to reframe it in their understanding?

I began writing. MeMu had started to manifest. MeMu, or as it shall henceforth be known, Memetic Murals is a research and action project that has now begun. #MeMu_15 is how it will be identified on media that use such tags. I am a bit excited and even more curious to see where it takes us.

In the coming weeks, I will publish some case studies and examples from the document that has grown around MeMu thoughts, and thoughts that surround those case studies. And so, welcome to this.


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