Fighting Walls: Street Art in Egypt and Iran

Urban walls form the skin of a city, communicating its values - from nationalistic state-sponsored messages, to the perspectives of the people. Fighting Walls: Street Art in Egypt and Iran, an exhibition at New Art Exchange, Nottingham, examines street walls in Tehran and Cairo, and how they have been appropriated by a new generation of socially engaged graffiti artists. The exhibition represents over 100 artworks, ranging from activist graffiti to governmentally commissioned murals - each intervention mirroring underlying currents within these unique societies. For the first time, Fighting Walls brings together the graffiti of Egypt and Iran - two contexts that are unique, yet share a history of social uprisings that have led for walls to function as communally curated message boards. Whilst murals and urban art in the west has been well documented over the last decade, this New Art Exchange curated exhibition celebrates the work of street artists working in dramatically different contexts; where political orders impinge democracy and freedom of speech, and where artists face extreme repercussions, including prison sentences, for expressing their views on the walls of the city. Melanie Kidd, Director of Programmes at New Art Exchange (NAE) reflects on why the exhibition is ground-breaking and of considerable social importance when exhibited in the UK: “Through thought-provoking and often beautiful imagery, Fighting Walls creates a refreshing and accessible means of connecting with the political struggles facing the people in both Iran and Egypt; important narratives that can be lost on the west, as we become numb to the onslaught of media coverage of the Middle East. Fighting Walls also celebrates new and non-Eurocentric aesthetics in street art, and through presenting the show in a contemporary art space, we’re acknowledging the relevance of an art form often marginalised as less significant than Fine Art practice. Most significantly however, Fighting Walls celebrates the bravery of those that continue to take to the streets to campaign for justice and change on behalf of the people, markedly defining the role of artist as activist.” Fighting Walls takes the form of an immersive installation of large-scale photography, mimicking the street art’s original urban settings. Through considering a broad range of city walls, Fighting Walls merges social commentary, visual culture, as well as more traditionally defined art practices. The exhibition examines urban walls since Iran’s 1979 revolution, when walls became spaces for message sharing among the people, trusted over monitored and controlled media. Similarly, in Egypt during their 2011 revolution, walls once again represented an accessible and democratic way for citizens to engage in public debate. Even with the emergence of social media, graffiti allows for anonymous and untraceable message sharing. Both Egypt’s and Iran’s appropriations of urban walls emerged from a sense of urgency and defiance, drawing people to the streets where they are visible and active.