I read Uprisings in Translation, the blog of a friend and Tufts alumna living in Cairo, in which she translates and discusses the graffiti she sees around the city. Recently, she met with street artist Keizer to talk about his work since the uprising. Keizer is a name this artist chose because of its accessibility to Egyptians who may have limited English (it’s the name of a popular type of bread) and the fact that Americans would also be able to pronounce it.
This image of a gas gauge that reads “war” on one side, “fear” in the middle, and “peace” on the right does not need to be translated to English, because the words are in English. I imagine the image is fairly easily understood both in Cairo and internationally, because of widespread dependence on cars. Would this text be easily read by people in Cairo? This depends on the English abilities of the person reading it, which would also depend on which neighborhood of the city this art is in. According to the blogger, Keizer does tend to create his art in wealthy, residential neighborhoods, which would suggest that the English text in this image is no barrier to comprehension. Keizer seems to be making a statement with this image that though the revolution in Egypt has progressed past fear, it is not all the way to peace. And since peace is a full tank, in this image, it seems that peace will be costly to achieve and even harder to sustain.
Looking at Keizer’s images, I was reminded of the difference between what he does and what someone like Ali Farzat does, who signs his real name to his work and does bear the brunt of any displeasure the authorities may feel. In the case of street art and graffiti, many artists do go by pseudonyms, so that their different works are recognizably theirs; however, their real names are not linked to the work, and I wonder if this gives them ownership of their work in the same way. In the case of Cairo today, it does not seem that Keizer would be punished for his graffiti. Would his messages be more powerful if he signed his real name? What power does his anonymity have?