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How Art Is Healing Post-Revolution Egypt
The revolution drastically transformed everything in the lives of Egyptians. Yet while there has been quite a bit of attention paid to the dramatic political changes, more attention needs to be paid to the cultural and artistic scene that has been taking Egypt by storm since early 2011. Rather than being confined to art galleries or movie screens, this new wave of artistic expression is spilling over into all areas of life and causing previous boundaries to crumble.
Since Mubarak's removal in February 2011, anyone walking the streets of Cairo might see stenciled graffiti calling for protests and encouraging people to join them. The proliferation of this type of socially engaged graffiti becomes even more significant in the context of increased control over political participation, including mass arrests of young activists as well as brutality by police and military forces against protesters and revolutionaries. When you walk now in downtown Cairo and see graffiti portraying a young man or woman, it is likely that he or she either died in the revolution or was arrested.
But art is not being used only to inform the public, it is also used to bridge divides. Art has always been a successful tool in bringing people together, and this is especially true of Egypt after Mubarak. The revolution broke many boundaries and stereotypes: In the streets, men and women became equals, and rich and poor people shared food and slept in the same tents. All demanded equality and justice.
Gradually music, chants, jokes, theater, poetry and literature began to reflect these new realities. Young revolutionaries started to identify more with the Arabic language as well as Egyptian culture and identity. The working classes began to feel more important and appreciated; previously marginalized groups saw their problems discussed openly through street songs, videos and community events.
"Tahrir Monologues" is a fine example of revolutionary art and one to which I am personally linked. This independent project uses a series of chronological monologues and aims to recreate the emotions and experiences of different people during the 18 heady days that toppled the Mubarak regime. Conceived by a group of amateur young Egyptian artists, the monologues serve as a cathartic reminder of the uplifting local scene during the uprising. The monologues not only reflect the lives and emotions of the revolutionaries, but also take you through the feelings of very different characters: a young female revolutionary who challenged her family to take the streets, a mother who brought food to the square every night, an artist, an old street vendor, a police officer, young members of the upper class, and individuals who felt they had nothing to live for.
Sally Zohney is a women's rights advocate, storyteller, amateur photographer, and member of SAWA Egypt and the Tahrir Monologues. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service: www.commongroundnews.org.