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A generation of artists is discovering itself in a post-Mubarak era.
that Egyptian culture was in the shadows for over 50 years, while art was considered a form of deviance. “Ordinary citizens did not feel that they could express themselves.”
But in revolutionary Cairo, art is not restricted to artists — Tahrir has made an artist of the man on the street, who equally revels in freedom.
El Sawy believes that closing the gap between art ad the people is the only solution for Egypt to develop. Today, people draw on pavements and spray paint on walls. “A cultural revolution is coming,” El Sawy predicts. “But that will happen as the political scene settles down, and we have to keep going.”
Filmmaker Wael Omar launched Radio Tahrir on February 11 as a reaction to Mubarak’s ouster, pouring life into a project that gave voice to the masses. But as the voices subside, Radio Tahrir wanes. He tells the story of fleeting euphoria and looming melancholy, of a landscape in burgeoning color that turns to grey.
Everyone was easy to motivate at the dawn of revolution, Omar recalls. Amid revolutionary fever, the station had clear direction. But by time, it was “hard to keep everyone on ship.” Effort dwindled. The economy being in such a tough spot post revolution, Radio Tahrir was challenging to sustain.
“We used to brand ourselves as the heartbeat of the revolution,” he said. “And now there is no heartbeat.”
Before the revolution, artists were not given the freedom to create and steer creative life. “None of us were used to working this heart,” says Omar.
“Before Jan. 25, any flower that bloomed too high off the field needed to be cut,” he says, slicing the air with his fingers.
Contrasted with years of restrained creativity, revolutionary Egypt rumbles with art. Omar now describes himself as an “artivist,” combining activism with art even as the revolutionary pulse drops pace. But the “artivist” is often overwhelmed with the feeling that “a million forces are working against you every single day.”
Like a painting in the making, colors collide on Cairo’s cultural canvas, capturing emotion in a series of fluctuating brushstrokes. The landscape is rich, it’s vibrant — but it is nowhere near done.
Independent theatre project Tahrir Monlogues takes the revolution to stages across Cairo's cultural hot spots, recreating a Tahrir Square atmosphere with personal recollections of the uprising. Raw and uncensored, the performance strips the revolution — and the performers — down to the very core.
Infused with nostalgia, the Tahrir Monologues project puts raw emotion in the spotlight. Euphoric pride and numbing fear ricochet, tugging at memories held deep by the audience.
Poignant, witty, and strong, Tahrir Monologues are everything the revolution was — until it wasn’t. In the shadows of political tumult and uncertainty, the project aims to preserve and glorify the memory of Tahrir Square.
Founder Sondos Shabayek says the project was spurred by an “urge to create a community similar to what we had in Tahrir at the onset of the revolution.” A series of intertwined monologues venture to “keep the revolution alive.”
Another force echoing the revolutionary pulse is street art. Graffiti has been an unavoidable phenomenon, arising as an outlet for expression while providing contextual visuals to illustrate the country’s political updates. Cairo’s walls resemble an open book, sprawling with socio-political signage.
But critical street art across city walls is still unsanctioned, even months after Mubarak’s ouster. The Supreme Council for Armed Forces, currently in power, set red lines for expression and systematically crackdown on anti-regime messages. On October 20, April 6 political movement member Ali Al-Halaby was detained by the military council and referred to prosecution on accounts of “damaging public property” and “approaching a military area”, according to the Arab Network for Human Rights Information.
As the Supreme Council of Armed Forces gained opposition after a series of alleged human rights violations, anti-military graffiti spread across the city. From January 25 forward, the revolution’s momentum has been mirrored in arts and culture throughout Cairo. The art scene developed into a platform on which political tensions are played out, processed, and felt.
Hany Rashed remembers January 28, the day of rage. “I saw a grenade soar up in the air, and watch it curve and head for an old man on my left. I pushed him aside, just in time for the grenade to hit my arm,” he reminisces, his face animated. “I was bleeding. But a third man emerged from the crowds and wrapped my arms up in a flag.”
Today, Rashed is painting policemen again.