Egyptian women request equality with graffiti
by Fajr Soliman and Angie Balata
In Egypt, street art, which has become incredibly popular since the revolution, is created mostly by men. However, women are now starting to join in, notably via the group Women on Walls (WOW), which has recently launched a nationwide graffiti campaign to educate Egyptians about the difficulties and aspirations of the country’s female population.
In December 2012, when the collective was launched, it only had twenty artists. Now there are 60, including about a dozen women. For these women, making their mark on public space is crucial: more than 80 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed in the street, according to the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights.
A large portion of the collective’s work features women, including some well-known cultural and political figures, and aims to spark a discussion on the role of women in Egyptian society.
This project is the brainchild of Egyptian women’s rights activist Angie Bagela and Swedish journalist Mia Grondahl. As a result of observing Egyptian graffiti artists, Mia wrote the book “Graffiti Revolution”. Later, she introduced the artists she met to each other, and created the project “Women on Walls.”
“As an artist, I am familiar with graffiti techniques, but this is still quite different from painting on canvases,” says Fajr Soliman, a painter living in Cairo who took part in the WOW project. “With graffiti, I need to ensure that everybody will understand my message immediately.”
According to Angie, what drew many women artists to utilizing graffiti as a medium was its accessibility. “Passersby in the street can stop and talk with the artists; they don’t need to go to a closed space like a museum or an art gallery to see the piece,” she explains.
“Everyone who sees it receives the same message — even those who don’t necessarily want to receive it.”
The group’s main objective is to empower women in Egypt to improve their lives, rather than to look up to someone else for change. Their strategy: “Decorating public space, all the while respecting it and making it aesthetically pleasing, is the best way to get people’s attention and, in time, gain their admiration,” says Angie.
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