“We’re doing this to fight against the social pressure and daily humiliations suffered by women”
As an artist, I am familiar with graffiti techniques, but this is still quite different from painting on canvases. When I do graffiti, it’s all about reaching the audience, which could be essentially anybody. With my canvas paintings, I can make allusions, and express myself through metaphors. But with graffiti, I need to ensure that everybody will understand my message immediately.When we go to a city, we spend two days with the women from the collective scouting out areas where we could paint and discussing possible mural ideas. We try to select smooth walls that are fairly high, to allow us to paint large murals in busy streets.“Our graffiti touches on the issue of sexual harassment, which is a huge problem here”Of course, some onlookers make fun of us and even insult us, which is quite commonplace in Egypt when women try to do anything in a public space. It’s in fact to counter this sort of behaviour that we launched our project. Our graffiti often touches on sexual harassment, which is a huge problem here.We also condemn the paternalist view that society imposes upon us: men have the right to decide when they want to go out, or what career they want to have… but not us! If the role of women in Egyptian society were re-evaluated, I believe this would fix many problems in Egypt.
“With graffiti, everyone receives the same message — even those who don’t necessarily want to receive it”
Local initiatives had already taken place in Cairo [such as the artist’s collective NooNewsa] but WOW is the first national-scale project bringing together Egyptian graffiti artists. Our artists range in age from 17 to 35 and come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.What drew us to graffiti was its accessibility. Passersby in the street can stop and talk with the artists; they don’t need to go to a closed space like a museum or an art gallery to see the piece. Everyone who sees it receives the same message — even those who don’t necessarily want to receive it. And sometimes, people just don’t get it: in Mansoura, one of the first murals that the artists painted was painted over by a local resident who considered it to be vandalism. [Editor’s Note: The city had in fact given the collective its authorisation to paint on certain walls].“Let’s be frank: a woman cannot try to do this on her own in Egypt”Female artists were not afraid to go out and paint in the street, despite the frequent harassment, particularly in Cairo. But let’s be frank: a woman cannot try to do this on her own in Egypt. Surrounded by men and with the collective, we know they are safe.Our objective is to help women — and more generally Egyptians — improve their environment, and not wait for the government to do it for them. Decorating public space, all the while respecting it and making it aesthetically pleasing, is the best way to get people’s attention and, in time, gain their admiration.