May 19, 2011

The Murals of Egypt's Martyrs must be Preserved

When Islam Raafat got killed, he was only 18 years old. Not an unusual age unfortunately for becoming a martyr in the Egyptian revolution. 846 people so far are known to have died in their quest for freedom and most of them were not older than Islam was when a security truck ran him over near the Ministry of the Interior on January 28. He died shortly afterwards from a broken skull.

Only when someone is forgotten, the saying goes, does he really die. Islam Raafat did not really die. The memory of the 18 year old killed at the threshold of what was supposed to be a promising life was held up high by his family and friends and the picture of this almost shy looking boy was incorporated into the martyr's gallery Egypt remembers.

But that was not all. There was Ganzeer, a 29-year-old artist living in Cairo, who found his very special way of making sure that the martyrs of Egypt's revolution would not be forgotten. He started out painting bigger-than-life portraits of martyrs on walls of buildings and sites with a special masking technique that produced stunning results. Photos of martyrs were his guidelines, and when you saw the outcome you could be but impressed how alive the mural paintings appeared to be.

From now on Islam Raafat had a face again in Cairo, and when you came by Midan Falaky he looked at you with solemn pride as if to remind you not to forget the price that was paid for the revolution, not to take anything for granted or forget the sorrows that went with the freedom that now can be enjoyed by everyone but that was not meant for him. His eyes seemed to appeal to you to remember him. And who wouldn't want to. Who indeed.

„It is great to name streets after them." says Ganzeer regarding the martyrs. "But if a person actually walks on a street named after a martyr it won‘t have as much of an impact on the person as looking at a big mural of the martyr.“ So with his paintings the Cairene artists wants to make sure, both the revolution and those that perished in it will not ever be forgotten.

Watch Simon Hanna's report on the Murals for Martyrs

What Ganzeer created was something, all Egypt could be proud of. But some saw this differently. In April Egyptian authorities secretly went and destroyed the picture of Islam Raafat in Midan Falaky by ruthlessly painting it over with white paint. It came as a shock to the artist, to his friends and most surely to his family. It was, as if he was killed a second time. But this time there was no uprising in which this destruction was embedded, no turmoil clouding the mind of those that destroyed. This time it was calculated and deliberate. They wanted to erase him.

The stupidity of this action - not to speak of the heartlessness - knows no bounds. A society on the verge of freedom is lost if it forgets the history that brought it there. 846 people - sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, cousins, aunts and uncles - died in the uprising, killed just for stepping out into the open and demanding peacefully a life without oppression. It is these people that died for the freedom of Egypt on which Egypt's future will be build. They are the seedlings from which one day hopefully a strong and proud tree will flourish. But if you destroy your seedlings, you will lose your harvest. If you forget your martyrs, you forget the pain and the price that had to be paid to be free.

There might be those still in Egypt who have just that in mind. One should not let them get away with it. The murals of Ganzeer are a proud and artistically valuable tribute to the martyrs of the January 25 revolution. Not all the names of the 846 killed have been released, and it will surely be almost impossible, as Ganzeer had planned, to paint every face of a martyr into the daily life of Egypt. But those that he does manage should be regarded as highly as a shrine, should be guarded by the Egyptians just as they guarded each other in Tahrir square and should become a proud heritage of this country that has so much heritage already to be proud of.

It will be for the better. Already now the Egyptian revolution has made headlines around the world, holding people in awe of what was achieved by peaceful means. One day, if this revolution will not fail - for it is not won yet but only on the verge of winning -, tourists from all places will come to Egypt not only to be fascinated by the antiquities and the awe-inspiring pyramids but also to see the places where the successful revolution of Egypt took place, where peaceful demonstrators defended freedom against the onslaughts of a brutal dictatorial regime and where far too many young Egyptians lost their lives in their burning desire to be free. These tourists will not only gasp at the grandeur of Karnak or Giza but too will stand with utmost respect in front of bigger-than-life murals of martyrs, admiring the Egyptian people for not forgetting to whom they owe their freedom and their life. If you honor your dead they say, you are a respectable person. If you honor your martyrs, you are a respectable nation.

Islam Raafat will be back

This weekend Ganzeer has promised to bring back Islam Raafat to Midan Falaky. He calls it the #madgraffitiweekend on twitter and invites everyone to come and join in. If you have any chance to go, do. You'll see the fascinating process of the picture developing and will understand even more how much effort and care is put into the murals that should be preserved by Egypt at all costs.

Don't be distracted by the name. The idea of it all is not crazy. And so much is certain – these grafittis are anything but mad.


Mad Graffiti Weekend 20-21 May

Part one: Stencil Cutting
Friday, 20 May, 10:30 AM
Place: 7 Nubar st, Floor 11

Part Two: Applying on Streets
Saturday, 21 May, Time To Be Determined
Place: Between Downtown & Zamalek

To assist in stencil-cutting & application, please call Mr. Nadim on 012 23 53 518
For inquiries from media personnel and documenters, please call Miss Aida on 015 028 23 967


For an interesting insight report on the explosion of creative energy in the alternative arts of Egypt you might additionally want to read this article by Jack Shenker in the Guardian:
Egypt's uprising brings DIY spirit out on to the streets


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