Egypt is thought of as the birthplace of civilization. It is also a country that houses a battle of cultures. In 2011 a new revolution began, was dubbed the Arab Spring and it inspired the world. In two short (or long depending on your perspective) years it fell apart. Many documentaries have been made over the years about wars, conflicts and protests; this one comes at the issue from a very different angle. Director Marco Wilms has made his documentary Art War about how many artists living in Egypt used their talents in the protest as articles of protest, agony and solidarity.
Creative inspiration comes out of most life experiences. One that really marks humans is conflict. Artists have always told the stories of rebellion. Conflict like what began in Egypt in 2011. Egyptians were fed up with their leadership, so they began to protest calling for the stepping down of President Hosni Mubarek. Rich and poor residents from all over Egypt began to assemble in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. Tahrir Square becomes known as Liberation Square. The people want freedom, justice and dignity. From the very beginning they acknowledge that it will take a long time for the revolution to attain its goal. They do want the government to know that the people will stay silent no longer.
Graffiti was something that had not been seen in Egypt for decades. When the fall of Mubarek occurred artists once again covered the street and squares. The aim is to counter the government’s propaganda. They put their points of view on the walls and the walls almost become like the voice of the revolution.
Some of the artists who have used their mediums as a vehicle for protest are included in Marco Wilms film. They include musician Ramy. He is a believer that art and music were essential in helping the people endure. Ammar is a graffiti artist and he sprays things all over town including the face of a police sniper who killed many protesters. His wall graffiti about the Mohamed Mahmoud street riots really became famous. Rosaina is an electro punk singer. She feels Egypt is on the verge of complete destruction. Even after the revolution she feels that nothing has really changed and things might be getting worse. Her music, as a result, is getting more and more political. Hamed is a writer. Things got so dicey that he actually had a fatwa placed on him.
After the first “free” election in Egypt the Islamists dominate. A few months later Mohamed Morsi is named fifth president of the country. The Islamists start a propaganda war against the revolutionary youth. They even claim that the artists are spreading immorality. Tahrir Square changes and now is fragmented. The followers of the Muslim Brother Morsi invade the square.
If you speak to the revolutionaries they will state their belief that the graffiti is the definite documentation of the revolution – not television, not the media and certainly not the newspapers. To date over 1,000 have died in the clash between the military and Muslim Brothers.
Marco Wilms’ film really shows how art can be used as a weapon. It honours these artists and their work. Very few stories could better document the revolution than his look at the art that came out of it could. He also shows that this type of art had its roots in the time of the pharaohs. The link is quite strong and these modern day artists continue to pull influence from the past. It also contains the very universal and as such relatable themes of self-determination and freedom.