In the aftermath of the Port Said tragedy, artists painted murals on walls surrounding the Mohamed Mahmoud street to commemorate those who lost their lives during the revolution and recent uprisings, to recognize the role played by women and to depict the relationship between the ruler and the general populace since Ancient Egyptian times. The works of art have attracted a large number of visitors, initiating a wide range of political discussions. Recently, however, several walls have been repainted by authorities –– an action deemed by several faculty members at AUC as a considerable loss of popular art in a legitimate artistic space.
“As a historian and an AUCian, I believe the murals on the Mohamed Mahmoud walls stand as a testament to the popular art of the Egyptian revolution and, at the same time, the University’s place in Egyptian society,” said Amina Elbendary, assistant professor in the Department of Arab and Islamic Civilizations. “It is a physical proof that AUC is not an isolated space in Egyptian society and that, by extension, its people are also part of the bigger story of the country.”
Reem Saad, associate professor and director of the Middle East Studies Center, also emphasized the need to preserve such vibrant works of art. “Authorities are mistaken to think that erasing the art will erase the memory of the martyrs, of the battles and of the revolution,” she said. “Nor will anybody be able to do anything about the mushrooming of this practice as a means of political expression and resistance.”
The January 25 Revolution marked the end of the 30-year Mubarak era and the dawn of a new beginning for Egypt –– one that has witnessed the emergence of new forms of artistic expression, particularly street art. Graffiti artists have organized themselves into groups and painted the streets of Cairo with nationalist themes as a means of self-expression. “In a city that has been barren of colorful public art for such a long time,” said Yasmine Motawy, writing instructor at the Department of Rhetoric and Composition, “the Mohamed Mahmoud murals are inspirational to us all and breathe life onto city walls stained with soot and plastered with remnants of campaign posters and advertising.”
According to Elbendary, this new form of artistic expression will constitute an integral part of the country’s history. “The street art –– the graffiti and the murals on our walls but elsewhere in the city –– is, by nature, a more vulnerable medium, yet it carries within it a reflection of contemporary aesthetics and political consciousness that is not readily reflected in other media,” she said. “I believe this should be preserved for future generations so that when they want to understand what was happening in Egypt in 2011 and 2012, they have access to a variety of cultural and artistic expressions.”
The murals are not only an expression of a transformative moment in Egypt’s history, but that of the University as well. “From the very first day, AUC has been part of this revolution by virtue of its location, but also by virtue of the engagement of its members,” said Saad. “The murals on our walls in Mohamed Mahmoud Street are about the martyrs of the Port Said massacre. We should do all what we can to preserve them. We should do it for all of them, and for our Omar.”
To view a photo gallery of the murals, click here.