We all are aware of the fact that art overall suffers in politically tumultuous nations. Yet, some forms of expression may still find a way and break into the open. Not so much literature and film—both of which require a great deal of investment in production, marketing and distribution—but certainly things like murals and graffiti that can blossom with limited resources, almost anywhere and everywhere, and be replicated quickly through photographs.
The last decade or so in Egypt has been a difficult period but from within this disorder has emerged a new generation of street artists. In a 2013 article on BBC Culture, British art critic Alastair Sooke writes that “influenced by ancient culture and contemporary politics”, this group of talented individuals has been “delivering potent messages of protest”.
One of the most prominent stars of the Egyptian street art scene is Alaa Awad (born 1981), who was educated at South Valley University in Luxor and Zamalek Helwan University in Cairo. He is currently an assistant lecturer at South Valley, where he is also working on his PhD.
Alaa revealed his neo-pharaonic style on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2012. Over the years, he has participated in a number of exhibitions and auctions locally and internationally, and has gained wide recognition for his symbolism and bold colours. His murals and paintings reflect a great love of the past and, at the same time, make an attempt to speak to trends in contemporary society. Elongated figures straight out of a pharaoh’s tomb merge with mythical and folkloric creatures and elements of Sufism to create a grand visual vocabulary that looks both familiar and fresh.
“My desire is that people know the truth,” says Alaa. “I want to express the facts through my art. I also want people to enjoy the beauty and understand the magnificence of Ancient Egypt. I enjoy highlighting the sense of justice found throughout the teachings and philosophy of Ancient Egyptian culture. However, everyone will have their own individual experience with my art and I welcome this as well.”
Alaa admires Modigliani because he didn’t adhere to the rules of classic art and was influenced by Ancient Egyptian figures himself. And then there’s Klimt, on whom he comments: “I believe he was an important artist for the Vienna Secession. I studied him for my master’s. He has strong messages in his paintings, which include the revolution in Vienna. He created his own style while pulling inspiration from eastern civilisations—Babylonia, Japan. He fused his inspiration with the modern culture of his time. Similarly, the social and political climate of today provides me with the motivation to create art about modern life, the ideas and issues and celebrations of our culture…with a touch of history.”
What are his views on the current socio-political situation in his country? Alaa continues: “It is a challenging time for Egypt and I respect the current political condition and government. I support the Egyptian army and the President, Sisi. We are against terrorists and any affiliation that doesn’t support our country. I support our approach to fight the terrorists, build the economy and develop education.
“In 2011, there was one revolution in Egypt to change the regime. In 2013, there was a second revolution against the new regime spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood. Fourteen million Egyptian people flooded the streets against the brotherhood in support of the Egyptian army. They requested that the Egyptian army protect the country from any plans for the brotherhood and their supporters to destroy Egypt. This is my opinion and the general opinion of the Egyptian people.”
Images used with permission.