This past weekend in seaside Alexandria, an artistic laboratory of cross-cultural dialogue, image creation, and creative collaborations colorfully conquered the streets surrounding the Lycee theater.
Organized by the Goethe-Institute Alexandria, the “Graffiti: Style, History, Experience” project is the second part of a graffiti takeover initiative that began this past May with commissioned street murals created by Egypt’s Amr Ali and European artists TIKA, Mickry3, and Mercedes Gonzales.
Joining the dynamic roster of artists were world-famous German graffiti team Ma’Claim and local art phenomenon Aya Tarek. The group transformed the Lycee’s once barren walls into a kaleidoscope of color, culture and artistic expression.
The Goethe’s graffiti project birthed the idea of utilizing publically visible and accessible walls in Alexandria as a canvass for urban beautification and cultural dialogue — the language being street art.
The graffiti festival kicked off this past Friday with a panel discussion by Don Karl, the graffiti writer and author of the recently published book “Arabic Graffiti,” alongside the four-man team that makes up Ma’Claim: AKUT, TA55O, CASE and RUSK.
Moderated by project facilitator, Dahlia Rafaat, the panel presented an engaging dialogue loaded with content regarding graffiti’s societal effects, various techniques, and an analysis of regional styles.
Since their formation in 2000, Ma’Claim (My Part) has become known for pioneering a unique photorealistic style with aerosol spray cans — AKUT, CASE, and TA550 are photorealistic painters while RUSK is the style (letters) painter — notorious for his Ma’Claim tag.
“We create based on our mood. We are four guys, four heads, four idea, four influences; together our ideas are created,” RUSK told Daily News Egypt.
Their murals rely on extensive preparation, usually first sketched out, and later computer generated. The hyper-realistic images mixed with RUSK’s vivid, clean-lined letter styling have resulted in an entirely new genre within graffiti.
Shortly before coming to Egypt, Andreas von Chrzanowski, aka CASE, formed an unforeseeable bond with Alexandria when he agreed to take on a spontaneous project with Zahraa Said Kassem, the sister of Khaled Said — who was killed last year and later became the a symbol and catalyst of mass protests.
Zahraa was in Berlin accepting the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung Foundation’s Human Rights Award on behalf of her brother who was awarded alongside Slim Amamou, a Tunisian rights activist and blogger.
Through a series of haphazard circumstances, Zahraa linked up with Don Karl’s graffiti expertise in hopes of creating a commemorative mural honoring Khaled within the days surrounding the award ceremony. Karl, in turn, facilitated the development of the entire project. He contacted CASE, who was also in town working on a project. CASE eagerly agreed to work on the project despite the short four-day time slot.
“It is the worst thing imaginable for a parent to outlive their child,” CASE told Daily News Egypt. “First and foremost, I did this for Khaled’s family. Secondly, I did this for freedom. Khaled stands for freedom.”
Don Karl did more than bring the project together; he located and shipped in two 70-ton original pieces of the Berlin Wall to be the canvass for the Khaled Said commemorative mural.
Don Karl said, “In general, there are many walls we can paint, but there is only one wall we can paint Khaled’s mural on.
“The breaking of the Berlin Wall signified freedom and democracy, so it only makes sense to paint Khaled — the catalyst of the Egyptian revolution on the Wall.”
The graffiti takeover gained momentum on Saturday, as Aya Tarek and the Ma’Claim team finished up their murals, adding to the modicum of artwork that lines the block surrounding the Lycee.
Watching Aya Tarek paint is a memorable experience. Working with a team of friends, Tarek first sketches her piece and then projects the image onto the wall where she traces over the lines with pencil. Soon after, she begins the tedious process of filling in the lines and bringing the image to life.
Due to the lack of available graffiti tools in Egypt, most notable being proper aerosol cans, Tarek is forced to use a brush to execute the fine-lined detailing within her mural, making it a far lengthier process. Thankfully, she has an arsenal of friends that are willing to help, or at least linger around for support.
Aya’s mural depicts the face of skateboarder carrying his board over his shoulders, as snake with gold and blue scales whirls over his eyes and through the mural. The piece is stunning in its details, the colors and the simplicity behind the idea.
Upon looking at Ma’Claim’s mural, it instantly becomes apparent as to why they are the leaders of photorealistic graffiti. Their work truly looks as though a photograph has been plastered on the wall.
Their image spreads over four separate panels, each about 1.5 meters wide, and three meters high. Each panel features an almost identical hyper-realistic image of a hand forming a “peace sign.” Surrounding the peace sign, are several other closed fist hands raised in the air.
From a distance, the mural looks as though it is a flood of people around the peace sign; yet upon closer look, you can see the layers of closed fists and the extreme detailing that goes into each centimeter of the painting.
The mural acts as an interactive exercise for spectators. The longer one looks at the four panels of the mural, you realize that they are actually not identical. Instead, subtle differences appear through closer inspection.
AKUT told DNE, “We didn’t want to do anything overtly political or impose our opinions. Instead, we want our piece to simply urge viewers to take a closer look, to look for similarities and differences within everything.”
To celebrate the unveiling, local rap crew Revolution Recordz performed a short concert in front of nearly 150 youthful Alexandrians, transforming the streets into a New York City-styled block party with break-dancers, fans and spectators.
Wrapping up the festival was a moving short film titled, “We Are All Khaled Said” created by photographer Joel Sams. The film portrays a fast-forwarded montage of the four-day creation process of Said’s commemorative mural on the Berlin Wall. The soundtrack to the film was an original rap written and performed by Said in 2007 called, “Al Esteslam” (Giving Up).
Said’s combative and prolific lyrics included bone-shaking verses such as, “I prepared my decision from the heart. Don’t be sad mother; I’m not the only martyr.”
Later in the song he raps, “It’s a shame to accept surrender. Beware, wake up my country. Don’t you have the will to wake up from your deep slumber?”
The Goethe’s graffiti takeover initiative has been a great success thus far, providing local Alexandrian’s with an accessible and public art gallery of sorts, helping to motivate cross cultural understanding, and, hopefully, inspiring the next generation of street artists.