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.
Now, in January, 2011, the revolution started, and life stopped for 18 days, and on the 12th of February, we naively celebrated on the streets of Cairo, believing that the revolution had succeeded.
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 a new Pharaoh, because whoever comes next should understand that we will never be ruled by another dictator.
No to violence: Ramy Essam came to Tahrir on the second day of the revolution, and he sat there with this guitar, singing. One month after Mubarak stepped down, this was his reward.
No to blinding heroes. Ahmed Harara lost his right eye on the 28th of January, and he lost his left eye on the 19th of November, by two different snipers.
No to killing, in this case no to killing men of religion, because Sheikh Ahmed Adina Refaat was shot on December 16th, during a demonstration, leaving behind three orphans and a widow.
No to burning books. The Institute of Egypt was burned on December 17th, a huge cultural loss.
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.
No to barrier walls. On February 5th, concrete roadblocks were set up in Cairo to protect the Ministry of Defense from protesters.
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."
Thank you. (Applause) (Applause) Thank you. Shukran. (Applause)