Contemporary Art Response: Egypt

By Simurgh Staff

After the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, a surge of Egyptian artists rose to comment on the changed society. Many contemporary artists used their medium to remark on the changes to museums and heritage, with some even helping to preserve the heritage that is left. 

“Tahrir Square, Cairo, in the early morning”
Photo by Frank Schulenburg. CC BY-SA 3.0 US. 

Alaa Awad (b. 1981) primarily paints murals1 and is most famous for his mural near Tahrir Square painted during the Egyptian Revolution—The Battle Mural.2 His art utilizes the pharaonic style with figures flattened to two dimensions3, invoking the Egyptian heritage and identity with which Alaa Awad profusely identifies.4 In the mural of The Tomb of Sobekhotep (2012), Awad shows several bald and bearded men praying and making offerings to an enthroned mouse and cat.5 At the time this mural was painted, the religious regimes gaining power disproved of this mural for mocking the Muslim Brotherhood and others.6 Awad’s other murals invoke monumental moments of Egyptian history. By using building as a canvas for mural painting, the capturing of these moments is physically, monumentally huge; the audience cannot ignore them. His historical references remind Egyptians of their heritage.7 However, because he uses his art to engage in political commentary, and because Awad’s artistic style balances on graffiti, many of his murals have been destroyed by the various governments which have ruled Egypt.8 

Another contemporary artist, Khaled Hafez, deals with the dualism of Egypt: a constant balancing scale between the past and the present; the East and the West; progressive and terrorist.9 Following these theme deeply ingrained in Egyptian culture, Hafez utilizes well-known Egyptian icons from historical and popular culture.10 In his painting Sketches for Sonata in 3 Military Movements, Hafez shows two lionesses and a large cow with a pharaonic symbol sitting on its head. However, surrounding the three animals are several sniper-like figures. The figures are a single color, like a shadow, but nonetheless identifiable, much like the depictions of pharaonic figures in ancient Egyptian reliefs. The inclusion of the animals and the snipers in demonstrates the duality of the collective consciousness of Egypt; civilians are constantly confronted by the clash of the depth of their history with contemporary issues of violence and unrest.11  

As conflicting forces seek to destroy or distort Egypt’s past, artists utilize their abilities to preserve and bring to life the ideological battles between these forces. Artists invoke historical motifs, blending them with styles relevant to present societal trends. Contemporary Egyptian artists are preserving their experiences, while simultaneously giving a voice to their cultural history. 

  1. Alaa Awad- Biography 
  2. Alaa Awad- The Missing Mural 
  3. Ibid. 
  4. Alaa Awad- The Sons of Liberty and Heritage 
  5. Alaa Awad- The Tomb of Sobekhotep
  6. Ibid. 
  7. Alaa Awad- Biography 
  8. Ibid. 
  9. Khaled Hafez: The Art of Dichotomy 
  10. Ibid. 
  11. Khaled Hazfez: African Memories