Click on any phrase to play the video at that point.Close
Two years ago, I was invited as an artist to participate in an exhibition commemorating 100 years of Islamic art in Europe. The curator had only one condition: I had to use the Arabic script for my artwork. Now, as an artist, a woman, an Arab, or a human being living in the world in 2010, I only had one thing to say: I wanted to say no. And in Arabic, to say "no," we say "no, and a thousand times no."
So I decided to look for a thousand different noes. on everything ever produced under Islamic or Arab patronage in the past 1,400 years, from Spain to the borders of China. I collected my findings in a book, placed them chronologically, stating the name, the patron, the medium and the date. Now, the book sat on a small shelf next to the installation, which stood three by seven meters, in Munich, Germany, in September of 2010.
Nine months later I found myself spraying messages in Tahrir Square. The reason for this act was this image that I saw in my newsfeed. I did not feel that I could live in a city where people were being killed and thrown like garbage on the street. So I took one "no" off a tombstone from the Islamic Museum in Cairo, and I added a message to it: "no to military rule." And I started spraying that on the streets in Cairo. But that led to a series of no, coming out of the book like ammunition, and adding messages to them, and I started spraying them on the walls. So I'll be sharing some of these noes with you.
No to stripping the people, and the blue bra is to remind us of our shame as a nation when we allow a veiled woman to be stripped and beaten on the street, and the footprint reads, "Long live a peaceful revolution," because we will never retaliate with violence.
Now, speaking of walls, I want to share with you the story of one wall in Cairo. A group of artists decided to paint a life-size tank on a wall. It's one to one. In front of this tank there's a man on a bicycle with a breadbasket on his head. To any passerby, there's no problem with this visual. After acts of violence, another artist came, painted blood, protesters being run over by the tank, demonstrators, and a message that read, "Starting tomorrow, I wear the new face, the face of every martyr. I exist." Authority comes, paints the wall white, leaves the tank and adds a message: "Army and people, one hand. Egypt for Egyptians." Another artist comes, paints the head of the military as a monster eating a maiden in a river of blood in front of the tank. Authority comes, paints the wall white, leaves the tank, leaves the suit, and throws a bucket of black paint just to hide the face of the monster. So I come with my stencils, and I spray them on the suit, on the tank, and on the whole wall, and this is how it stands today until further notice. (Laughter)
Now, I want to leave you with a final no. I found Neruda scribbled on a piece of paper in a field hospital in Tahrir, and I decided to take a no of Mamluk Mausoleum in Cairo. The message reads, [Arabic] "You can crush the flowers, but you can't delay spring."
You can share this video by copying this HTML to your clipboard and pasting into your blog or web page.
need to get the latest Flash player.
Got an idea, question, or debate inspired by this talk? Start a TED Conversation.
Art historian Bahia Shehab has long been fascinated with the Arabic script for ‘no.’ When revolution swept through Egypt in 2011, she began spraying the image in the streets saying no to dictators, no to military rule and no to violence.
TED Fellow Bahia Shehab sends an important message through her street art in Cairo: “You can crush the flowers, but you can’t delay spring." Full bio »