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#memu: 5.2 / Future Perspectives for an Egyptian Street Art Scene

Note: MeMus was written from 2012-2015. Things have (again) changed since then. But I maintain that it is mainly an "export industry".

The current Egyptian street art scene is an export industry. Due to legal restrictions on the use of public space as a forum for expression which are vigorously enforced and a general atmosphere of hegemonic domination in the country, many of the artists who can, by choice or necessity, remain in the country, choose to work outside their local contents. Though this allows for a higher degree of experimentation stylistically, it also removes the street from the art, thus removing the unmediated interaction by a public in a sphere.

Though currently limited, the extensive use and cultural acceptance of street art as an art form opens a new horizon for the use and application of the practice to more mainstream artistic means. So far, it has not been used, except in erasing, in attempts at directly representing the government and remains exclusive to the counternarrative by the street.

If one follows the example of Beirut, in which graffiti and street art- in part due to its overabundant expression in that city- enjoy a semi-legal status and long history, we may be seeing the beginnings of a commercial arts scene with some actors already established outside their local contexts as representatives. The popularity and high visibility of artists such as Aya Tarek, Ganzeer, Alaa Awad and Ammar Abo Bakr, as well as street art figures such as Keizer, Teneen, Sad Panda indicates a subculture in rapid development. The use of street art, always prevalent in the blinking, singing commercial spaces of Cairo, has increased, in part due to cooperation projects. But it is now spontaneous local initiative that is fuelling this form of self-expression, both commercial and personal, rather than targeted international interventions .

If one follows the idea of a hybrid culture, the practice of street art has added a global layer to local contents, which have, reversely, have become understood as  having an impact beyond their immediate impact locally. Thus understood, a more lasting representation through an artwork allows a space for visual and critical reflection than the fleeting images of a battle or demonstration, which achieves its impact through immediacy. Abstracted and coded, a space for interpretation and reframing- both locally and globally: Artists’ renderings in a flow of digital information with quantifiable impact and importance. The creation of a transnational field of meaning and culture.

The initial momentum behind the street art movement has faded in the country - the cultural revolution that followed the uprising continues, though currently, it is mostly barred from the tightly controlled streets. Workshops in disadvantaged areas continue, as does some independent artistic education in public space. However the scope of expression has been much reduced- the political ludic has, for the time being, once more removed from public.

A scene has formed, and it continues. Due to political considerations- the country is still far from being as stable as advertised- it is difficult at the point of writing to determine how the practice will develop. As mentioned above, artists have moved to the streets to gallery- like spaces in exodus. In this, they are undergoing the change from street artist to a different understanding of art. It is doubtful whether we will see a meaningful manifestation of critical, content-driven art in the coming period. It is possible that the advertising industry will adapt the methods of street art, hoping to adopt the popularity and disruptive character of the form to the artform that originally used the language of advertising to disseminate its messages- the formation of a commercially oriented street art industry. Maybe hajj drawings will gain an avantgarde movement.

In a very short time, a rich history has been created.  Its future impact is uncertain, but a space has been opened.


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