The Art of Revolution

At an art school in Cairo, students explore the Egyptian uprising through a once-banned medium: protest art
 

On the sidewalk outside Cairo's Faculty of Fine Arts college on leafy Zamalek Island, just across the Nile from Tahrir Square, hijab-wearing young women are elbow-deep in paint. Absorbed in their work, they climb ladders to study the effect, all the while graciously answering questions from a gathering audience. The students, whose sweet faces are framed by pastel scarves, don't look much like revolutionaries, even if their art tells stories of blood, agony and rage.

Two months after protests forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from office, these students are communicating their feelings about the revolution in the way they know best: by covering the school's drab gray walls with colorful political art.

One of the mural's artists, Youmna Mustafa, 20, points to the bound screaming face on her wall and says her piece is about freedom of speech.

The Democracy Report"This is what the square meant to me," the student of mosaic art says. "This is why I went. Not to be able to speak your mind, your wants and desires, share your thoughts out loud, is to feel," she pauses, searching for the word, "dead."

In another ten-by-ten-foot panel, Anas Muhammed, 21, explores the role that the Internet and social media had in informing the public and publicizing the protests. He has drawn a man whose head, once helmeted and blinded by state media, is now brilliantly lit by Twitter, Facebook, and Al Jazeera.

Before the Internet, he says, "all we had to unify us was the Egyptian flag--which I show bleeding from the disrespect Mubarak showed us."

Most of the school's faculty and 2,500-student body attended the demonstrations, according to the genteel Professor of Mural Art Sabry Mansour. Those 18 days of protest and President Mubarak's departure were an emotional earthquake for the country, he says, and he wanted to find a way to capture the energy, optimism, and passion, especially that expressed by the students.

Gazing around the school's courtyard -- where a fully-clothed male model, dressed in shirt and ironed slacks, leans on draped boxes before a life-drawing class of a half-dozen young women -- Professor Mansour says he finally decided to do something that would have been impossible under President Mubarak: protest art.

"The school's walls on the street were covered with graffiti, only it was not" Professor Mansour hesitates politely, "very good graffiti." He realized then, of course, the revolution would make better street art.

Students at the century-old school responded well. After losing one of their peers to the violence -- a well-loved young man majoring in Interior Design and Decor --the students found great meaning in the assignment, Professor Mansour says. All 60 students in the course made a mural design to present. The class held a "democratic vote" to select the seven best.

Presented by

Colleen Gillard & Georgia Wells

Colleen Gillard & Georgia Wells are a mother/daughter team covering Egypt after the revolution. They blog at Egypt Unplugged.

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