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Making Their Mark

In its second year, the Women on Walls project brings takes message of empowerment where it’s needed most — to the streets

By Ahmed Mansour
Photos by Mia Grondahl/WOW

 

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There are many tactics that women’s rights activists in Egypt use to try to empower women. Some make public awareness speeches, and others march through the streets and spread word. The Women on Walls (WOW) project, back for a second year, wanted to make their mark on the issue a lasting one: using graffiti.

“Experts talk day and night on television about women’s rights, but they always seem to fail to get their message across for the people that need it most, and those are the simple people of Egypt, who wouldn’t understand what they are trying to say due to the complexity and sophistication of their words. So what we do is that we send those messages through the graffiti in one of the most popular streets downtown,” says Enas Abdul-Aziz Awad, a graffiti artist who participated in the event.

WOW kicked off a six-day graffiti workshop, featuring renowned Swedish street artist Carolina Falkholt, on February 8, turning the walls of Al-Sherif Street, near Borg El Lowa, into an eye-catching reminder that “a woman is half the world, and she brings the other half.”

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Falkholt (street names: Blue and Grafitta), is one of Sweden’s mostly internationally acclaimed graffiti artists and worked in New York City for four years with the city’s famous graffiti crews. Famed for the intricacy, detail, size and visual vibrancy of her work, Falkholt shared ideas and techniques with local artists.

Falkholt says, “I don’t mean to send any messages out of those drawings other than that I want all those who lay eyes on the graffiti to thank God for the blessing of women and give these women the power to face the ‘judgmental eye’ that follows them everywhere here in Egypt.”

When WOW first started in spring 2013, over 40 artists participated in the project, creating street art in Mansoura, Alexandria, Cairo and Luxor. The project ended with the famed Garage Walls event where the artists transformed the walls of a downtown parking garage into a street art gallery.

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As WOW delves deeper into the issues related to women, the organizers decided to collaborate more with local initiatives and groups focusing on women. For this year’s project, WOW partnered with Nazra for Feminist Studies and HarassMap, which helped develop the direction and implementation of this edition of the project.

The WOW initiative was founded by Swedish photographer Mia Grondahl, who has published books about street art in the Middle East. WOW is funded by CKU, a Danish governmental organization for culture and development, with additional support from the Swedish Embassy in Cairo.

“There has been lots of support for us to make this happen, and also we faced a lot of obstacles but nothing we couldn’t actually handle,” says Angie Balata, co-organizer of WOW. For example,  Balata notes that after they couldn’t obtain government permits to paint certain locations, they found local property owners who gave them permission to decorate walls on private land.

“There has been a lot of support from the people in the streets, men and women, and a lot of interaction,” Balata says. “People would stop take pictures and ask us about the event, others even shared ideas for drawings that we did.” et

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