Five Arab Street Artists with Serious Talent
By MacKenzie DiLeo/Arab America Contributing Writer
Street art displays creativity and originality in the most natural form. Some call it vandalism and others call it graffiti, but to me it symbolizes the true meaning of art; the freedom to express your creativity in a new and unique way. Street artists come from varying backgrounds and all of them have different ways of showcasing their artistic abilities. The different forms of street art can range from spray paint murals, stenciled graffiti, sticker art, street installations and even sculpture. Some artists have even gotten creative with yarn and moss. No matter the form, street artists all have their unique styles and create art with a specific purpose in mind. The art usually addresses a social issue that is of particular importance to the artist. While there are plenty of street artists in the Arab world who have created remarkable work, I have chosen five incredible artists to discuss in detail.
Street Artist #1: Yazan Halwani
Yazan Halwani is a 27-year-old street artist from Lebanon. He typically creates work addressing issues related to identity, sectarianism and cultural definitions. He likes to use Arabic letters, drawn in calligraphy, to create portraits and images, while still breaking away from the meaning of words. This means that he focuses more on the shape, movement and composition of the calligraphy rather than its greater meaning. The letters in calligraphy serve as the “pixels” that compose the larger portrait or mural. One of Halwani’s most famous works is a large portrait of a Lebanese singer, Sabah, which he painted in his hometown of Beirut. The portrait is located on the building that was previously the Horseshoe Café before the Lebanese Civil War. The café was a place for Arab artists and writers to gather and collaborate with one another, so it holds a special significance.
Street Artist #2: Ganzeer
Ganzeer is a 38-year-old street artist from Egypt. He gained fame during the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. His street art reflected the tough circumstances Egypt found itself in at the time with civic responsibility and social justice. Since 2011 his art has continued to evolve, but some common inspirations seem to include comics, science fiction, Cairo, Ancient Egypt, minimalism, punk and modernism. Despite this, the underlying theme of his work seems to be his Egyptian culture and heritage. While his early work features bright, bold colors, his more recent work has included more dim, basic colors. One of Ganzeer’s most famous murals featuring a tank versus a bicycle can be found under the Sixth of October Bridge in Zamalek, which is considered by many to be one of the most remarkable pieces in Cairo following the revolution.
Street Artist #3: Sarah Al-Abdali
Sarah Al-Abdali is a 31-year-old street artist from Saudi Arabia. She prides herself on preserving the Arab culture through its rapid urban and ideological transformation, while appreciating the land, architecture and heritage of Saudi Arabia in all her work. Al-Abdali is one of the first street artists from Saudi Arabia who extensively explores Arab culture and Islamic philosophy. Her form of work is varied, and includes large paintings, miniature paintings, ceramics, woodwork, mosaics and plaster carving. Al-Albdali’s more recent work includes her street art drawings of Four Wives, which focuses on the inequalities facing Saudi women in the one-sided practice of polygamy.
Street Artist #4: Laila Ajjawi
Laila Ajjawi is a 30-year-old street artist from Jordan. She was born and raised in a Palestinian refugee camp that her ancestors fled to during the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. Living in an overcrowded and impoverished refugee camp, Ajjawi found herself in the lowest part of Jordanian society. Her street art, however, has opened many doors for opportunities outside the refugee camp. In her art she challenges the assumptions her culture makes about women and Palestinian refugees. Ajjawi intends to promote hope for refugees and young women who find themselves in similar circumstances to her. She is known for her work with murals associated with Women on Walls, which is based in Egypt and aimed to empowering women through street art.
Last but not least… Artist #5: Fats Patrol
Fats Patrol is a street artist from the United Arab Emirates. She grew up with comic books and literature, so she emphasizes telling a story and making sense of how we experience the world through her work. She tries to address universal sentiments that transcend borders and identities, which inspires her outreach projects with challenged communities and youth in India and Jordan. Her work varies in form including Indian block print, general illustration, Arabic calligraphy and graffiti. She has various works all over the world that explore social issues relevant to the locations they are in. While it is difficult to pinpoint a single familiar piece of artwork, Fats Patrol has large wall paintings in Amman, Jordan and Port Adelaide, Australia. She also runs a small company in Dubai, The Domino, which curates commercial art projects.
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