Emerging from Egypt's January 2013 revolution, this radical street art collective seeks to spark awareness of the struggles that Egypt's female population endures regularly. Women on Walls (WOW), or Sit El 7eta (in Arabic), was launched by activists Mia Gröndahl (Swedish journalist) and Angie Bagela (local cultural manager), who hope to advocate for better treatment of women in the country by giving women a voice - and to do so symbolically in a male-dominated field. Many of their murals depict female leaders; others bring attention to sexual harassment. As of May 2013, the group includes over 60 artists, a dozen of whom are women.
Led by resident graffiti artists in 4 cities throughout Egypt (Luxor, Mansoura, Cairo, and Alexandria), this women's empowerment graffiti campaign kicked off with the launch of Gröndahl's fourth book, Revolution Graffiti: Street Art of the New Egypt. Although her book includes a section called "Women Power on the Wall", she was only able to find 300 graffiti images featuring women out of around 17,000 pieces of art. The campaign launch was marked with a day dedicated to street art as well as to music. Artists worked to transform a rundown garage into a graffiti gallery of sorts, now known as The Garage. According to Balata, The Garage is not a traditional venue for art; instead, it is a springboard for more community initiatives. The event also showcased musical performances by The Matrix collective, spearheaded by spoken-word poets and rappers Aly Talibab and Abdullah Miniawy, in addition to talks by: Gröndahl; the project's consultant; and several of the participating artists.
The project is divided into 2 phases, the first of which took place at Anafora (a Coptic retreat outside Cairo), which included a series of gender-related workshops for artists. Led by the feminist theatre director Sondos Shabayek in collaboration with Sally Zohney, who is a co-founder of the female rights group Bahaya Ya Masr, the workshops outlined gender-sensitive issues and a practical approach to discussing these issues on the street. During the project's second phase, artists visited each of the 4 cities and designed meaningful interpretations of women's empowerment. According to organisers, "each of the artists brings their own unique stories to the project - each has had different interactions with the street and the streets have touched each in a very special way." The aim was to increase women's visibility and positively affect the collective consciousness of each community.
A team of 5 young film directors, one of whom is also a graffiti artist, is working to create the film version of the street experiment. Organisers' musician friends working in the independent/underground scene are putting together a soundtrack for the film. One of their experiments is to gather together women from various Egyptian bands to produce a few songs specifically for WOW.
In May 2013, the artists returned to "The Garage" for a closing ceremony, discussion, and final analysis of the project.
Women, Gender-Based Violence
According to the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights, more than 80% of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed on the street.
Reportedly, while collective members are often mocked while they are creating their art, they have received plenty of support and remain hopeful that they can ultimately inspire social change.
Of her book, Gröndahl says that it started with the January 25 revolution because "this is when graffiti really kicked off in Egypt. In most countries in the West, graffiti's foundations can be found in the hip-hop movements but here, the start of the graffiti scene is almost entirely linked to the revolution as one of key mediums of expression from the youth....I see graffiti turning more into a form of resistance - in fact it is the art of resistance - I can also say that maybe graffiti is one of the strongest messengers for the youth proclaiming the revolution continues."
Funded by Swedish Embassy and CKU (The Center for Culture and Development, Denmark).
Egypt Independent, May 8 2013; "Egyptian Women Fight for Equality with Graffiti", France 24, April 29 2013; "Egyptian Street Art Collective Fights for Women’s Rights, by Julia Dawidowicz, April 30 2013; and WOW website, May 9 2013. Image credit: Mia Gröndahl/Flickr