Throughout Cairo, sprawled across walls and buildings, are words in solidarity for women rebels, graphic depictions of violence, and art demanding for women’s rights. Although graffiti is an accessory of any revolution or protest, it’s important that pro-women and anti-harassment messages are a part of Egypt’s. Street art in Cairo has become a way for women’s rights to be advertised as a legitimate part of the mainstream revolutionary movement.
Spray-painting words, pictures and symbols on walls have traditionally around the world been a way to overcome the inherent authority of the streetscape—be it ideology, business, government, rival group, etc. In the case of women, the inherent authority of the streetscape is the harasser. In a similar way in which the street harasser forces their message, the street artist’s use of art to advocate women’s issues forces the message: “Hey listen! This is my space too. And I’m going to tell you that the violence and harassment happening to women on these very streets is unjust. Change must happen!”
It is a habit for most women to keep a spare eye on the strange man walking towards them, step away quietly when they are groped, and to look at the ground in submission when they are verbally harassed. Streets are a public area, and women should feel comfortable using them as much as men do. This feminist brand of street art recognizes that everyone shares the urban space; it is a public area, and everyone should feel safe to walk about comfortably. More important to the Egyptian revolution, it is a way to attack the indifference towards these issues. This art pushes the message that women’s rights and issues must be considered in the future government and culture.
Here are some examples of feminist Egyptian street art which I think are particularly powerful, as well as links for more information about these activist-artists:
The first stencil pictured below, by Noon El Neswa depicts three different women in different forms of head covering, below is says, “Do not Label Me.” It expresses the need for a respect of women’s choice of head covering.
El Zeft, another popular artist protests sexual harassment with a stencil of Nefertiti in a gas mask. This image below has become iconic for protesters around the world in solidarity of the work Egyptian women have done with the uprising.
“No to Street Harrassment,” by Mira Shihadeh, shown below. It shows a woman using her spray-can to blow away harassers. It’s pretty telling of the feminist street art movement’s mission using graffiti to dismantle harassers.
This wall mural below is by Mirah Shihadeh and Zeft, is particularly poignant, in that it portrays not only the violence, but fear and intimidation of sexual assault. It depicts the common excuses which attackers use.
Pictured below is a haunting memorial for Iman Salama,. She was shot and murdered after confronting a man for groping her on the street. The artist, Nazeer, in an interview said that he hoped to bring awareness and justice to this incident, as it received little press-coverage.
The stencil below is by artist, Bahia Shehab. It stands for, “No, stripping of our people.” The footprint reads, “Long-live a peaceful revolution.”
The mural below, depicts the violence of the “blue bra” incident. Like Neft’s Nefertiti installation, these pieces recognize women’s involvement in the revolution. They also portray the incident as a rallying call for the uprising.
For more examples check out the references below: