Alaa Awad


A detail of the mural on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Cairo. (Photo: Revolution Graffiti - Street Art of the New Egypt)

Egyptian artist Alaa Awad graduated from Luxor’s Faculty of Fine Arts in 2004 and currently teaches in its department of mural painting. He has participated in multiple shows in Egypt and abroad. Here he discusses the work he has been designing on Mohamed Mahmoud Street in Cairo with artists Ammar Abu Bakr and Hanaa El Deighem.

I TOOK A BREAK from teaching and came to Tahrir Square earlier this month because of the February 1 massacre in Port Said that followed a football game. We started painting the mural that day. I have no plans to leave now, and so I keep working on it. The mural is a memorial to the shuhada [martyrs] who died in Port Said. The paints are cheap; we buy them with our own money. I painted the ancient Egyptian compositions, Ammar did the martyrs’ portraits, and Hanaa painted the decorative elements. It’s structured like a story: The work begins with scenes painted in an ancient Egyptian style of people bringing offerings to the ruler, who is depicted as a mouse. In the next scene we see the Mubarak family on trial for crimes against social equality and justice. Suzanne Mubarak is depicted with her suckling son, preparing him to take power. Then there’s a scene of a women’s march. It’s an image from the Ramesseum and dates to the time of Ramses II. The original is now mostly destroyed.

We wanted to recognize the key role of the women whom we respect very much––like Madame Ghada Abdelkhalaq, Nawara Negm, and Alaa Mahfouz––in the struggle. Here you see women as the ancient Egyptians depicted them. They are climbing a ladder that symbolizes the revolution. They must break through where the ladder meets the sky. The women are nude; they are beautiful. They are not covering their bodies. We are Muslims but we don’t believe in the Wahhabi style of Islam that has been imported to Egypt. Egypt has a long, long history and its own traditions.

The portraits of the martyrs are next. Here the women are mourning the deceased. They are carrying black flowers. There is the door of Osiris, which you pass through on your way to the land of the dead. At the funeral procession the women are wailing and smearing themselves with earth. This is a very old Egyptian tradition. The goddess of the sky, Nut, is rendered above, and the martyr’s soul is being welcomed into heaven with a lit candle.

We just began work on another mural located on the same street. Ammar is painting portraits of those who died in the clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street and at Maspero last year. Many people come to look at them. Sometimes visitors write things on the mural or add small drawings or stencils. I don’t mind at all. The murals might disappear soon; we might find them covered up as soon as tomorrow. We’ll just paint them again.

— As told to Clare Davies