art

Portraits: An Interview With the Artist, IMPREINT

In a perfect world we would all be happy with our “imperfections” and celebrate their uniqueness. But when we have a difficult time appreciating our individuality and understanding how it connects us to others in our imperfect world, artists so often act as our muse, our advocates, and our advisors, showing us new outlooks on ourselves.

Since December of 2013, the UK-based artist IMPREINT has set out on an ambitious collaborative project with the global public. People send in photos of themselves holding a single prop: a balloon. Why a balloon? Well, IMPREINT once painted 1000 balloons and although from a distance they seemed similar, eventually, he started to notice that in addition to their different sizes, shapes, and colours that they also had marks and “flaws” which made each one stand out. And now, this shared reflection between the balloons and people is what has made the images in Portraits so very beautiful and flawless.

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IMPREINT - Don't take things too seriously - August 2010

IMPREINT – Don’t take things too seriously – August 2010

Being an artist, how has art shaped the way that you interact with and understand the world?

Didn’t change my way of thinking, seeing [of] things, or interact but [art] made me more complete as a person.

Your recent project, Portraits, has had a lot of positive response and involvement from people across the world. What does Portraits say about the way we see and understand ourselves as people in today’s age?

I understand that Portraits represents for [those] who participate a way to stand for something that they care about. Interesting, because even if everyone has his personal feeling about his own portrait or the reason why he has made it, the result when you look at them is that we appear all the same. So basically this project talks about the need of the people of the world to share and feel united in our diversity.

IMPREINT - I’m a temporary exhibition - October 2013

IMPREINT – I’m a temporary exhibition – October 2013

“I’m a temporary exhibition.” This statement greets visitors to your website and Facebook page. Does this heightened awareness of time allow you to look at issues (such as homelessness in your project Cut Off and perceptions of beauty seen in Portraits) with a more critical eye?

With a more conscious eye. This statement came as an “answer” to all these proclamations that society and the art world propose as important. It was presented for the first time during the Frieze Art Fair in 2013. It’s a reminder of how our life is fragile and how [it] would probably be better to change attitudes and reconsider what is really important.

You engage and collaborate with the public to create work. But are there any artists you’d like to collaborate with in the future?

No one in particular [just] whoever feels that we can do something together.

IMPREINT - Portraits - December 2013

IMPREINT – Portraits – December 2013

Check out more photos from Portraits on tumblr and Facebook and explore some of IMPREINT’s other projects at www.impreint.com.

City Dream: An Extended Interview with Artist, Jill Stanton

January 24 to May 3 features the works of Albertan artists as part of the Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art 2015, Future Station. Jill Stanton is one of the artists whose work is on display this year. Her mural City Dream No.5: Virtual Reality evokes a dreamlike wonder about the world while playing with the biennial’s theme of a post-industrial landscape. I had the opportunity to speak with Jill about her last mural which was displayed at the Art Gallery of Alberta called Strange Dreams during the summer of 2014. From that interview, it became very clear that no matter where Jill takes her art or how it develops in the future, it will always have a playful spirit in it. One that comments on the way society sees and understands itself in a “post-industrial landscape” that is constantly under development and trying to realign itself with the ethics of people in our societies. In honour of her current work at Future Station here is the extended version of our conversation.

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Becky Hagan-Egyir: Your current exhibit at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA), Strange Dream [March 5 – December 31, 2014], “inspires questions of how we look at our environment and how our environment can affect one’s subconscious” according to the AGA. How did the idea for Strange Dream come about?

Jill Stanton: My work is very detail-oriented. As a kid, I’d spend hours reproducing Where’s Waldo drawings, fascinated by how a single two-page illustration spread could command a viewer’s attention for so long. These drawings — made with the tiniest, thinnest black pens I could get my hands on — certainly formed the basis of how I approach my work today. I make extremely detailed drawings with an element of narrative in them, whether that exists in actual, text-based narrative (in my comics), or implied narrative, in a drawing with several characters and secret pockets that are only noticed by the viewer as they stare at it for a period of time. I want to hold the viewer’s attention; I want them to weave a narrative out of the visual clues I leave in the drawing.

I only recently started to work large-scale. Historically, my drawings have been the size of a single sheet of paper, the largest being around 22” x 30”. In the past couple of years I have had the opportunity to work on a larger scale for other pieces and freelance jobs, and it sparked a bit of an epiphany; the larger the work, the more detail I could include, and the more the viewer will be sucked into the drawing.

Strange Dream (excerpt) 2014 Photo by: Jill Stanton

Strange Dream (excerpt)
Digital
2013
Photo by: Jill Stanton

Strange Dream was a culmination of my mural projects and my comic projects. I wanted to create a very large-scale environment that featured several hidden characters and suggested narratives. Creatures and questions pop out the more you stare. After a minute or two, secret eyeballs are suddenly noticeable; they’ve been staring at you the whole time. Where is this place? Who is the girl in the colour nest, why is she there?

Becky Hagan-Egyir: What environment has the most impact on how you get inspired to make art?

Jill Stanton: I’m a bit of a plant nut, thanks to my mom’s early greenhouse and gardening brainwashing techniques (I love you mom!). In 2011, I travelled to Vancouver Island for an apprenticeship to learn how to start and operate a 10-acre market organic farm; I was there for the entire 9 month growing season: building crude greenhouses and cabins, seeding, transplanting, weeding, driving the tractor, harvesting, farming. It was initially supposed to be a break from art in general, but the natural environment and the experience of real, solid hard work was rewarding and stirring. I ended up making a small series of comics about life on the farm, worked on advertisements and newsletters and posters for the farm and other businesses in the small town of Duncan (the closest town to the farm), and painted several crude farm signs with latex paint advertising our produce. Those comics were pretty dumb and not very well drawn, but they were the impetus for all my recent graphic narrative projects, including the subscription-based comic book, Headspaces. Even now, in my tiny downtown apartment, I’ve got a small jungle of 50+ houseplants. They just make me feel better about living back in the city.

Becky Hagan-Egyir: Your art work shows a true appreciation for comics and their alternative, dream-like worlds. Often the real world can seem dream-like too — especially when you turn on the news and see all the transformative as well as heart-wrenching things happening out there in the world. Do political and social events in the world ever play a role in how you approach your work?

Jill Stanton: The first major works I completed after completing my BFA were pieces that responded to injustices related to food, food security, and food politics. These issues were part of the reason why I moved to the farm in the first place — to learn how “sustainable” food production works firsthand. Food and its surrounding issues have always been a focal point for me; I’ve struggled with it on a personal and political level for many years.

From Headspaces II Ink, digital on paper 2014 Photo by: Jill Stanton

Nothing is Chasing Me But it Sure Feels Like There Is (exerpt)
From Headspaces II
Ink, digital on paper
2014
Photo by: Jill Stanton

I was a vegetarian for much of my adult life (farm life has since changed my relationship with animals, their environment, and meat). I drew a lot of hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, and melty cheese, because I was fascinated with the seductive quality of these foods even though they were inherently disgusting and awful and immoral. I was drawing my way through thinking about these issues. First: Why do people want to eat these things? Why did I want to eat these things even though I “knew better”? Did it make me a fundamentally better person because I didn’t eat factory meat or even meat in general? And then, later, on the farm, surrounded by ethically raised meat and dairy: Is a “vegan” salad made from a head of lettuce and cucumbers produced on a poorly-managed farm in China or California with migrant, underpaid workers any better than a steak sandwich made from locally produced, grass-fed beef? Worse?

Three times a day (ideally for us lucky and privileged people), we navigate through the ethics of food politics; with each ingredient within a single meal, we have the potential to either harm ourselves (the health value of the food in question, or our financial position to choose a better option, or not), harm an animal (through animal welfare questions related to meat, dairy, eggs, etc.), harm the environment (pesticides, clear-cutting, fish farms, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, etc.), or harm someone else we are peripherally unaware of (where the food was produced, by whom, and under what variables and terms of employment). What used to be a fairly straightforward thing –– even 100 years ago, before such rampant globalization –– has turned into a real minefield. We all have to eat, that’s what makes food questions so all-encompassing and awful.

…I still refer to these ideas from time to time in my work, though less lately since I am feeling increasingly as though I have less of the answers I once thought I held so firmly. I still think hot dogs and cheeseburgers (etc.) are incredibly interesting and powerful tropes in society, but I like them more as ways to introduce a kind of cognitive dissonance into a narrative or drawing, rather than a guilt trip. It’s a constantly evolving relationship.

Becky Hagan-Egyir: One of your recent works was creating the cover design for local Edmonton rapper and performer, Mitchmatic’s new album. Do you often support Edmonton artists with their own creative projects?

Jill Stanton: Working with musicians and locally owned venues has been a real cornerstone in my practice. Gig posters in particular are among some of my favourite projects; Craig at Wunderbar has let me make dozens for him over the past years for various shows, and I’m forever grateful. Posters give me a public platform and a low-stakes deadline that I can use to experiment with different imagery, compositions, and techniques. Drawing a little bit every day and throwing in challenging variables for myself is so important to how I work out future ideas.

FREE Mural For FREE Advertising company Latex paint on wall 2013/14 Photo by: Jill Stanton

FREE Mural
For FREE Advertising company
Latex paint on wall
2013/14
Photo by: Jill Stanton

Becky Hagan-Egyir: What have been some of the most memorable times this has happened for you?

Jill Stanton: Some of my favourite drawings are still some of those Wunderbar posters. Absolutely! Especially the ones where I liked the poster I made but the show was even better. I have also done a handful of improvised, live-drawing sessions for a variety/comedy show hosted by comedian Jon Mick. Basically I bring ink and pens to the bar and whip up drawings on the spot based on a topic that Jon picks. Generally the drawings are making fun of Jon. It’s weird for me because I’m not a performer but I enjoy it! I like thinking and drawing quick on my feet —most of them turn out pretty alright, though some of the results of these shows are pretty awful!

Becky Hagan-Egyir: How has the Edmonton artistic community influenced your own work?

Jill Stanton: Edmonton is home to a big batch of really talented artists and musicians. It’s a pretty tight, small-ish community, considering the population size of the city in general. The closeness of this community is interesting because it creates an environment where everyone is pretty open and supportive of one another. But it’s also competitive, since there are only so many real, solid opportunities available in a city where arts is maybe not quite as important or revered as say, hockey. It’s a cocoon in a way. It also means you have to be very conscious of what other artists within the city are doing, and that your work stands on its own.

It’s nice to feel like if you work hard and place value [on] your peers and connections, you absolutely can do great creative things within the city. Edmonton has a weird small town vibe for a relatively large city, which makes it feel as though you can tackle things that you might not feel as though you could tackle in, say, Vancouver or Toronto. I’m impressed and inspired by start-up creative initiatives like Chelsea Boos’ Drawing Room space downtown, and Brittney Roy and Connor Buchanan’s Creative Practices Institute in the 124th street area. Also, running the printmaking program and working with clients at the Nina Haggerty Centre [an art centre for adults with developmental disabilities] on 118th avenue has been a really excellent experience for me personally and artistically.

Becky Hagan-Egyir: If you could collaborate with one artist right now, who would that be and why?

Jill Stanton: Josh Holinaty, local illustrator extraordinaire. We’ve been meaning to collaborate for a few years now, I think. He’s moving to Toronto, but I think we’ll finally get a chance to doodle a bit together while I’m out there this fall for a residency I’m doing at Artscape Gibraltar Point.

Becky Hagan-Egyir: Growing up, did you ever imagine that you would be a different type of artist? A singer or comedian maybe?

Jill Stanton: No, strangely, I never even wanted to be a marine biologist or doctor or dinosaur or whatever kids traditionally think want to be when they grow up. Just ask my mom. I just [wanted] to draw things.

Manning Hall, AGA Ink on Paper 2014 Photo by: Jill Stanton

Manning Hall, AGA
Ink on Paper
2014
Photo by: Jill Stanton

Becky Hagan-Egyir: Where do you do you see yourself heading with your work five years from now?

Jill Stanton: I don’t like to think too far into the future with my work. I think making five or ten year goals is a little dangerous because often it puts a specific idea of yourself up on a pedestal that you continually strive for under the impression that if you don’t reach it, you’ve somehow failed. This mindset doesn’t allow for natural creativity and following tributaries and branches from ideas and projects you work on in the present.

If I had a five year plan for myself five years ago, I might have been a successful illustrator living in some large city, but then again, maybe not. But in the process of working towards that goal, I might not have followed the stream of ideas in directions other than exclusively illustrating for widespread publications, and likely never would have made the work I’ve made thus far. I probably wouldn’t have gone to the farm. Maybe I wouldn’t have been drawing comics. I certainly wouldn’t be making 1800 square foot ink drawings.

I think it’s more interesting not to plan too closely and let things happen and opportunities present themselves. Work and art gets stale and boring if you don’t let yourself mess around in hopes of accomplishing some pie-in-the-sky goals. The most important thing to remember is to just keep working. Relentlessly.

Iceland Dream Screenprint on Paper 2013 Photo by: Jill Stanton

Iceland Dream
Screenprint on Paper
2013
Photo by: Jill Stanton

Stay up to date with Jill’s work:

twitter.com/scenic_edmonton

jstanton.ca

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Check out the original interview here.

Michael Franti

Michael Franti and the Spearhead’s first album, “Home” from 1994 has a song in it called Piece O’ Peace, in which the first line says: “Every million miles ya haffe tek a first step”. The idea of peace is often something that seems elusive, and maybe even unachievable in our time, but then there are artists like Franti who fight this idea by living and sharing a peaceful life with people he meets; whether it’s those in an audience doing yoga with him before his show, or people in Iraq after they welcome him into their homes to share laughter, tea, and stories about humanity. These are just a few of Franti’s steps towards achieving peace at home and throughout the world with the help of music.

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Your life and your work seem very poetic. What is it that drives you to reach out to people and spread the message of creating a peaceful world?
Well what drives me is that I have a desire and a belief that all of us have this unique opportunity in our lives — and that opportunity is to each day learn to better get along with each other and to make the world a little bit better then when we got here. And music is a really great way of doing that because music is something that accesses the soul, the heart, so when our bodies become tired — like mine is today [laughs] — and our minds become taxed, it’s our souls that opens all of us and [says] “you know you can go a little bit further, you can try a little bit harder, you can love a little bit more”. And that’s when things really change in the world, because [people] get run down and as they get run down, it’s often when their souls close off and they lose their empathy, they lose their compassion, they lose their wiliness to try and reach out to others, or to try to do something for others. And music is one of the things that accesses that part of us and I love music for that reason.

For your documentary [I Know I’m Not Alone] you went to Iraq, Palestine, and Israel. As an activist, how do you support change from here, at home?
One of things that I learnt when I was in Iraq, and in Israel and the Palestinian Territories was that everywhere I went, I met people who were risking their lives each day to achieve peace. I met Iraqi families who would take me into their homes where they hid during the bombing and [I met] soldiers who said, “I came here a day after September 11th. I signed up to join the army because I though Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, that he was involved in 9/11. And I got here and found out it was all lies” you know. And I met Israeli and Palestinian families who had lost family members in the conflict there and in the occupation and who said that we don’t want our family member’s deaths to be used as a cry for war, we want it to be used as a cry to end all wars. And that they don’t want the pain that they felt to be experienced by anyone else on the planet.

So as a communicator of that, I realized that you don’t have to choose sides – you don’t have to choose sides based on nationality — that you can choose to be on the side of the peacemakers from which ever country you come from. And in every country, there are people that are willing to go to great lengths to achieve peace. … In the case of the Palestinian-Israeli situation [where] you have people that are living under occupation for a long time, you know some people since right after WWII and other people since 1967, and living with everyday soldiers in their lives breaking into their homes, barricading, and you know blocking them off with a wall from their own land and it’s suffering and enduring incredible hardship and they fight back. And in doing so, you have people who living in Israel grow up in fear that if they were to walk into a supermarket or café or were to get into a bus it might blow up. And so I think that the way to really best communicate is to try to listen to both sides and to be respectful of the loss of both.

Michael Franti-03_VSM Photography

©VSM Photgraphy

And when we start comparing and counting and saying a hundred people were killed here and two hundred people were killed here and oh a thousand were killed here and a million were killed here and twenty million were killed…we don’t get anywhere. So, I wrote a song Bomb the World that says “you can bomb the world to pieces but we can’t bomb it into peace” and I really believe that — that the more political violence that we enact, you get more in return. And it doesn’t matter if it’s next week or the next generation. You use political violence to try and solve a problem; you get more political violence back at ya. When we use peace, and we use music, and we use food, we share land, and we share resources, and we create jobs and opportunity and health care and education for people, then they’re a lot less likely to strap a bomb onto their body and walk into a supermarket.

You briefly lived in Edmonton when you were in grade nine. Coming back to the city [for Folk Fest], how has that connection influenced your performances?
Well you know it’s always emotional for me to come back here because I remember being in grade nine — which for everyone is one of the most difficult parts of their lives [laughs] — and so I have great, very positive, and glowing memories of this time and I have emotions from a very dark place in my childhood. And so it’s always healing to come back here and to see things that are familiar. Like I was out in front of this hotel and there was this clock that’s got these great winding gears on it and I saw it today and I remembered seeing it when I was a kid. And seeing the river and seeing some of the things that haven’t changed. And then you see things that have really changed like the skyline and just how far it is — I remember to get to the airport there was nothing to the edge of the city for miles and miles or kilometers I should say [smiles]. So you get to the airport and now it’s like the city almost goes out to the airport. It’s just neat to come back and see all that.

Read the original here.

Paint and Tear Gas: Ganzeer’s Art and Egypt’s Revolution

It was the most thrilling and exhilarating time of my life. Seeing people band together and sacrifice themselves in the face of armed troops with nothing else but their voices, and all for what? For other people, people they didn’t even know, future generations they would never meet… It was such a glorious thing to experience. The closest thing I’ve ever experienced to seeing God.

On January 25, 2011, one of the greatest days in Egypt’s history took place. Inspired by what he was seeing, a 29-year-old man decided to record the Revolution the best way he knew how —through his art. He was born Mohammad Fahmy, but today he’s recognized by another name: Ganzeer, inspired by the Arabic word for “chain”.

Ganzeer’s first work for the Revolution was unplanned because he didn’t expect to be in the crowd of revolutionaries. He describes the elated feeling he experienced that day in Tahrir Square as “the most thrilling and exhilarating time” of his life. Armed with spray paint, he climbed to the top of a billboard — his canvas. On it he wrote simple, yet powerful words over the face staring back at him. The crowd of protesters below him responded with loud, enthusiastic cheers. Down with Mubarak! The freshly painted words glistened atop the face of Hosni Mubarak, former president of Egypt.

It was on February 2nd that Ganzeer created his first visual reaction to Mubarak’s continued refusal to resign: a stencil of symbols that read, “Mubarak doesn’t equal Egypt”.

Eight days later, Mubarak decided to confront protesters with a defiant and pleading speech: “I am addressing you today with a speech…of a father to his sons and daughters,” he began. “Those who have committed crimes against our youth will be out on trial according to the courts and the laws. They will get severe punishments.”

The next day, Vice President Omar Suleiman briefly addressed Egypt, and the world, with important news; Mubarak was no longer president. Egyptian flags waved throughout Tahrir Square while protesters sang, cheered, prayed, and cried under the thunder of fireworks exploding above them; protesters like Ganzeer who’d been fighting for three weeks for this moment of freedom.

Ganzeer was raised in a “semi-quiet residential neighbourhood with many stray dogs [that he and other kids his age] befriended” in Ard El-Golf, Heliopolis, “City of the Sun”. There, in the northwest corner of Cairo, he admired his older brother’s Nintendo games and copied the figures from their superhero comics; influences that led him to become a graphic design artist, writer and painter years later. In college it allowed him to connect to the hub of Cairo, a source of inspiration for his work. “I am fascinated by cities and megacities and how they function,” he explains.

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While Ganzeer was experiencing life in Heliopolis, a neighbourhood with a mix of low to high income families, Mubarak was often at work nearby in one of his presidential palaces. During his three decades of control, Mubarak ruled Egypt, unjustly imprisoning citizens and restricting freedom of speech and expression.

On Mubarak’s last day in power, February 11, 2011, the army kept watch over thousands of protesters as they waited outside Heliopolis Palace for Mubarak to leave. In the vice president’s address, he gave another piece of important news. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) — a group of senior military men headed by General Tantawi at the time — would protect Egypt until elections took place. Protesters turned to them for help with ongoing changes. Removing emergency law was one of the many demands of change from the start. After Mubarak’s resignation, the army had promised to remove the law, but failed to do so.

The hopeful relationship between protesters and the military on February 11th was soon dividing Egyptians in their loyalties and making them doubt the Revolution. Chants of “Down with the army!” would soon replace the chants of “Down with Mubarak!” that had filled Tahrir Square earlier in the year. People began to march against the army’s rule.

Tensions between the military, the police and the people had reached a dangerous point by November 19, 2011. Lining Mohamed Mahmoud Street for five days, the riot police, or Central Security Forces (CSF), stood and blocked the advancement of unarmed protesters. The police threw teargas onto the road and continued to act as a human barricade, blocking the path towards Tahrir Square and the site of the Interior Ministry while the heavy haze of gas stung protesters’ eyes.

Many died during those five days. Doctors who treated the injured said that protesters suffered serious side effects from the use of teargas; either coughing up blood or suffering damage to their nervous systems. Others lost their eyes as a result of snipers’ shots to their heads.

Soon Mohamed Mahmoud Street in Cairo would be known as “The Eyes of Freedom Street”. From north to south, art covered the walls of this street and told stories of loss beside stories of continued hope. Ganzeer also used these walls to help tell these stories and reflect the conscience of the Revolution. Working with other artists, he was determined to paint faces of martyrs of the Revolution. Ganzeer wrote about the project on his blog: “On one hand, the goal is to honour the martyrs, and on another hand provide passers-by with a reminder of Egypt’s struggle for freedom, democracy and equality.”

Many times work like this would be whitewashed under the SCAF’s time in power, but the images would always reappear no matter how many times they were cleared.

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It’s not like doing graffiti was a totally safe game up to this point.

By the time Morsi had won the elections on June 30, 2012, and the SCAF had relinquished its power to the new president, many felt that the Revolution was coming to an end. In exhibits like “The Virus is Spreading” in October 2012, Ganzeer encouraged people to continue fighting for civil liberties and human rights. He also looked at political, social, cultural and artistic establishments and their misuse of power.

Giving individual willpower over to the will of establishments is something Ganzeer critiques as being the cause of changing opinions about the Revolution, saying, “We are in an obvious phase of pretend-adoption, void of any traces of true change, but just enough of a pretense to put revolutionary fervor to sleep.”

It wouldn’t be long until Morsi’s face appeared next to those of Mubarak and other government and military leaders on the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Since July 2013, a counter-revolution between pro- and anti-Morsi protesters has continued. Brotherhood supporters have been rounded up in mass arrests by the SCAF under General el-Sisi — in power once again until the next election.

On May 26, 2011, Ganzeer was a target of the authorities for his art activism. He was arrested for leading Mad Graffiti Weekend — a movement to get artists worldwide to use their art as peaceful protest against injustice by SCAF and other authorities.

“When I was detained,” he begins, “I was welcomed into the office of a high-ranking military officer who offered me a soda and then a Nescafé. They were all eerily nice and I was released on the very same day.”

This is the opposite of recent targeting by the SCAF and authorities of the media, Morsi supporters, and anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Supporters of Morsi have tried to use graffiti as a tool to fight back against what they believe was a coup on July 5, 2013, but they may have another battle to face in the near future. A proposed law wants to make graffiti illegal, where anyone caught doing it will either be fined 100,000 Egyptian pounds (15,967.40 Canadian dollars) or face up to four years in jail.

Regardless of the situation, Ganzeer and other artists continue to use their art as a weapon to fight for change. “One could have easily been charged with plotting against the state with the type of graffiti we’ve been doing, [but] we’ll always try and do what we think is the right thing, even if the government oppresses us.”

Read the original at: markermagazine/paint-tear-gas.

Shut Down In Egypt: One Artist’s Story Of Struggle And Oppression

DURING THE 2011 REVOLUTION in Egypt (commonly referred to as the January 25th Revolution), artists in Egypt began to express themselves in ways they never had before. Their work caught the world’s attention, inspiring us all to believe in change. Ganzeer was one of those artists whose work covered the walls of Cairo, documenting the spirit of the revolution, supporting its call for “bread, social dignity, and justice.”

Fast forward 3+ years, and artists and revolutionaries in Egypt are facing uncertain times. On May 29, after a two-day election, a new leader — Abdel Fattah-Sisi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) — was elected Egypt’s president. Support for SCAF has created divisions between revolutionaries in Egypt, and the leaders of SCAF have often been a focus of Ganzeer’s work.

Today, Egypt is undergoing a counter-revolution driven by the supporters of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which believes former President Morsi’s ouster — as demanded by many Egyptians in July 2013 and enforced by the army — was unwarranted. This accusation has led them to be labelled as “terrorists” who are now facing mass trials and much worse. In addition, the government has been widely criticized by human rights groups for the mass arrests of protesters and members of the media.

But the ongoing revolution hasn’t stopped Ganzeer from fighting for positive changes in Egypt’s future. I interviewed him to discuss the role of art in Egypt’s struggles. He also talks about his childhood pleasures and the daily issues he faced as a resident of one of the world’s largest metropolises, Cairo.

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Ganzeer stands to the left with a friend and fellow artist in front of one of his murals depicting a zombie soldier. Ganzeer has been critical of the role of the army and other groups in power throughout the ongoing revolution. Photo: Abdelrhman Zin Eldin

 

Did you grow up in Cairo and what were some of the best things about growing up in the city? 

Yeah I grew up in Cairo. In a little neighborhood in Heliopolis called Ard El-Golf, which is right behind the abandoned Baron Empain Palace constructed in 1911. Far from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Cairo, or even Egypt’s lifeline: The Nile River. I feel like I never really got a taste of “city life” till much later. Today Ard El-Golf is a go-to hangout area, with many popular cafes, sushi spots, and bridges and tunnels and high cake-like buildings and what have you. But back in the 80s/90s it was pretty much a semi-quite residential neighborhood with many stray dogs befriended by me and other kids my age. My school was around the block and the couple friends I made were in the neighborhood.

I feel like I only really faced the city – understood the scope of the city and all that – when I had to go to college which was in a town called Banha, a 30 minute train ride from Cairo. But I would spend roughly an hour and half in public transportation just to get to the train station. I don’t think I’m a big city kinda guy. I find myself much more comfortable in more intimate communities that are more connected with nature. But don’t get me wrong! I am fascinated by cities, and megacities and how they function. Cairo’s crazy in just the layers of history that are apparent in every facet of the city. The architecture, the food, the conversations, it’s such a culturally rich city but it’s also one that carries a lot of baggage!

What are some of the most important things that are needed for a better quality of living in Cairo and Egypt right now?

First off, about seventy-five percent less people! There’s no way any city on the planet can accommodate [over] twenty million people! The number of people living in Cairo are having such a huge toll on the transportation system, the architecture, the environment. On the urban planning front, the city just can’t keep up – it’s always much, much behind. I’d put most of the development money into the rest of the country’s towns and villages, get people to decentralize and spread out.

Secondly, private cars need to be banned. Of course, it’s difficult to get around a city and spread out in Cairo without a car, but seriously, it’s just out of hand. I understand that it’s easier for the government in the short run to let people buy cars (making money in the process), but in the long run, it becomes unbearable for everyone. The city really needs to ban cars and focus entirely on developing its public transportation options to reach capacity and maintenance.

A view of the Baron Empain Palace built between 1907 and 1911. The architecture was inspired by Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and by palaces in India. (Amr Moustafa Shalaby)

A view of the Baron Empain Palace built between 1907 and 1911. The architecture was inspired by Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and by palaces in India.
Photo: Amr Moustafa Shalaby

Thirdly, all this stuff should be running on solar energy or electricity or whatever. I’ve seen solar energy panels cladding the roofs of farm houses in freakin’ Germany. GERMANY … it’s cloudy most of the year. But Cairo, the sun shines bright even all winter. It’s just dumb to depend on gas the way we [all] do. It’s the only way if we don’t want our people [in Egypt] to all drop dead and die from lung disease, which by the way, a lot of us already suffer from.

And lastly, water canals. It’s ridiculous to grow up in some part of the city two hours away from the Nile, with no direct access to it and only read about the Nile and its significance in history books. If they expect to teach us the importance of the Nile and our historical connection to it, then whenever a new extension of the city is planned, a Nile artery should be the first thing in that plan. Plus, it would offer a good alternative to getting around the city, much better than overcrowded asphalt roads (which discharge so much heat throughout Egypt’s extended summer months).

Did you ever join the sit-ins in Tahrir or any protest gathering points in Cairo? What was it like for you?

I just so happened to be there on January 25, 2011 when the revolution first broke out and boy it was the most thrilling and exhilarating time of my life. Seeing people band together and sacrifice themselves in the face of armed troops with nothing else but their voices, and all for what? For other people, people they don’t even know, future generations they will never meet. It was such a glorious thing to experience, the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to seeing God or something. Indescribable.

Photo taken by Mostafa Hussein. On his blog on March 16, 2011 Ganzeer wrote this about his project to create murals of martyrs, “The goal is to, on one hand, honor the martyrs, and on another hand provide passers-by with a reminder of Egypt's struggle for freedom, democracy, and equality.” This particular mural depicts 16 year old Seif Allah Mustafa who lost his life during the January 25th Revolution.

On his blog on March 16, 2011 Ganzeer wrote this about his project to create murals of martyrs, “The goal is to, on one hand, honor the martyrs, and on another hand provide passers-by with a reminder of Egypt’s struggle for freedom, democracy, and equality.” This particular mural depicts 16 year old Seif Allah Mustafa who lost his life during the January 25th Revolution. Photo: Mostafa Hussein

When did you first realize that you enjoyed art?

[When] I was about four or five years old. My older brothers had lots of Dungeons and Dragons catalogs, and Nintendo game cartridges, and superhero comic books, and I was just always fascinated by the art in those things and would spend many hours trying to copy them.

What’s the first work you did on the walls of Cairo as part of the Revolution? 

The very first thing I did was not at all planned. Nor was it an artwork at all really. But being in Tahrir Square on January 25th when the revolution broke out, and just so happening to have a can of spray paint, I climbed an NDP (Mubarak’s National Democratic Party) billboard in the middle of Tahrir Square and spray painted what people were chanting “Down with Mubarak”. The crowd erupted with cheers and whistles.

The first “artwork” I created however, was on February 2nd – a black stencil of visual symbols that pretty much visually stated that Mubarak does not equal Egypt. This was after Mubarak’s second public speech since the revolution broke out – a highly emotionally charged one that many, many, people were actually starting to fall for.

A protester holds up one of Ganzeer's stencils on February 11th, 2011. This was the day when Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak's three decade presidency in Egypt had finally come to an end.

A citizen holds up one of Ganzeer’s stencils which expresses that “Mubarak does not equal Egypt” on February 11th, 2011 in Cairo. This was the day when Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that former President Hosni Mubarak’s three decade presidency in Egypt had come to an end. Photo: Ganzeer

Was street art common in any part of Cairo before the revolution? How did people react to it before the Revolution?

Not really. Just a hand-full of rather content-less stuff in Heliopolis and Alexandria [Egypt’s second largest city]. Very cool and pretty to look at but without much meaning to it.

Egyptian jail cells have gained a notoriously bad reputation in the world’s eyes since the Revolution began in January 2011. For your work as a multi-medium artist helping the Revolution you were briefly arrested. Would you be able to tell me about your experience and how it happened?

So far, I’ve been lucky enough to not have to set foot in a jail cell at all. When I was detained, I was welcomed into the office of a high-ranking military officer who offered me a soda and later in the day a Nescafe. They were all eerily very nice and I was released on the very same day.

This design entitled "Evil Military" by Ganzeer references "the girl in the blue bra". After a video was released online during a December 2011 protest, showing the brutal beating of a female protester – whose shirt during the beating was opened, revealing her blue bra underneath – by soldiers, the video became a rallying call for protesters demanding an end to the military's power.

This design entitled “Evil Military” by Ganzeer references “the girl in the blue bra”. After a video was released online during a December 2011 protest, showing the brutal beating of a female protester – whose shirt during the beating was opened, revealing her blue bra underneath – by soldiers, the video became a rallying call for protesters demanding an end to the military’s power.

Read more about Ganzeer’s incident in jail in his own words here.

Much of your work is critical of (SCAF) or establishments – ie. Political, Religious, Art, etc. – that oppose freedom or change and growth. Have you faced a lot of negative reaction to your work by these groups?

All the time. Hardly anything I do is not met with a negative reaction from someone [such as Ibn Salaama].

This work, Tank vs. Biker, is one of Ganzeer’s internationally recognized murals which clearly shows in black and white stenciling his opinion about the relationship between the army and the people. On the left, a huge tank rolls forwards aiming its main gun at a target. A young man riding his bike on the right carries the city on his head in place of a loaf of bread. The Arabic word for bread sounds similar to that for life. Photo: Mehri Khalil

Has the SCAF or any other group in your opinion taken the Revolution away from the people and their goals of gaining “bread, social justice, and dignity”?

Yes. Particularly SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Salafist groups.

How do you feel about the proposed law to ban graffiti in Egypt and send accused artists to jail for four years? Do you fear being a target?

Well, it’s not like the revolution itself was ever legal. It was illegal but we did it anyway. And it’s not like doing graffiti was a totally safe game up to this point either. One could easily have been charged with plotting against the state with the type of graffiti we’ve been doing so y’know… we’ll always try and do what we think is the right thing to do even if the government oppresses us. It’s always been that way anyway.

***

Check out Ganzeer’s website for more of his work: www.ganzeer.com.

For more insight, read my profile piece on his work and the events on Mohamed Mahmoud Street — a street not only recognized for its revolutionary street art but for the stories of struggles that occurred on it: markermagazine.com/paint-tear-gas.

See this interview on Matador Network: matadornetwork.com/change/shut-down-egypt-artist

Jeffrey Hatcher’s A Picasso at the 2013 Edmonton Fringe Fest

American playwright, Jeffrey Hatcher’s play, A Picasso, uses the subject of beauty in art, not to dispel the horrors of war, but to make audiences question if beauty is heightened because it seems rare during war and times of loss. Watching this play at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, this question is explored in a multi-layered story that brings up many questions such as who does art belong to—the people or the artist? Led by the two lead characters—the infamous Picasso played by Julien Arnold and Miss Fischer, an art critic employed by the Nazis to collect “degenerate” artwork, played by Shannon Blanchet— they explore the answers to this question, within a Parisian interrogation room, while also facing each other’s philosophies about the world and the role of art in life.

The intelligence of this script is made bolder by Shannon and Julien’s earnest performances which audience members respond to with their laughter made over the quick, witty jabs both characters make over topics of sex and gender roles, or for the moments of intense silence when the audience gets a glimpse into the person that Picasso might have been outside of his larger-than-life identity. All of this makes the play a work of art in itself for allowing the audience to believe that hope is always a possibility—even when it seems as if it does not exist.