Egyptian Graffiti: Keizer

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.

Keizer tries to attack fear through his art.

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?

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One Response to Egyptian Graffiti: Keizer

  1. I think you bring up a lot of interesting points in this post and I especially liked your discussion of the use of english in this graffito. This definitely brings up a more complex discussion about english as a growing “universal” language but also as an imperial force. However, I’d like to comment on the widespread use of the language in the Arab world specifically and especially in capital cities like Cairo. When I was studying in Amman, it was almost impossible to find somebody who would not initially try speaking in english with me. The language is a huge fad among the Arab youth regardless of social class, although I do admit that the wealthier they are, they more knowledge of english they will have. Many have argued that english has entered the public sphere of knowledge due to entertainment (i.e. popular television, youtube videos, movies, etc.), but what is more interesting is that english has now entered the venue of political discussion. Much of the political graffiti I saw in Amman used english, and some more modern political terms remain in english, untranslated. This graffito, therefore, is so interesting because it will definitely be understood by international communities, but the simple words of “War” “Fear” and “Peace” will also be understood by the vast majority of Egyptians in Cairo. This is a perfect embodiment of this idea of polilingualism that we discussed in class.

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