Graffiti, once the trade of thugs and unruly teens, is having something of a second coming in the Middle East.
Could graffiti be the new hieroglyphics? Used by the ancient Egyptians to record the events of the day, graffiti is the new public diary of choice. And with the never-ending cycle of change and conflict in the region, there’s no shortage of things to paint about.
If the world is a canvas, then the recent spike in graffiti art worldwide can be seen as an attempt to make life more colourful. A burst of vibrant spray paint, depicting regional events or simply just a beautiful scene, can act as an antidote to otherwise bleak political times.
Increasingly, in the face of ever-changing political systems and tumultuous sectarianism, many are turning to art as a form of self-expression. Artists feed on the world around them and there is plenty of brain-food in the Middle East at the moment. Although the Cairo streets are becoming famous for their protests, there’s a new, up and coming phenomenon - the streets are decked out in colours, murals, slogans and other splashes of artwork that contextualise the ongoing crisis in a world removed from CNN news reports and death tolls.
Beautiful street art may be pouring out of Cairo currently but it has a long way to go before it catches up with the cultural, cosmopolitan haven of the region - Beirut. Professionals in their own rights, Beirut’s graffitiers are giving the streets a human touch with their polished paintings. Although still a risky procedure, the high level of skill of those spray-painting around Beirut has given the artists some legal leeway and the city is all the better for it.
One cannot discuss street art in the Middle East without mentioning perhaps the most potent combination of them all: Bethlehem and Bansky. Brit-based and infamous the world over, Banksy brought his unique take on both street art to the separation wall that runs between Israel and the Palestinian territories to the region. Instantly iconic, Bansky, through the masterful spraying of a tin of paint, brings the wall, its horrors and connotations to life. A witty take on the most deep rooted conflict of them all in the region, who can argue with Bansky’s Bethlehem buzzwords? ‘Make hummus, not walls’.