My talk Urban Arabic Graffiti within Political Arab Crisis at AtypI Dublin 2010 was a continuation of the lecture about Arabic graffiti in Lebanon that i gave at Notre Dame University part of the City Street Conference on the 18th of November 2009.
Though the graffiti scene in the Arab world is still young, over the past few years it quickly took over the streets of its cities. Due to the bad political, economical and social situation in Lebanon and Palestine, the graffiti art is spreading rapidly and voicing out the pain of its people. On the other hand, political leaders and militia use graffiti to voice out their propaganda and news. In other Arabic nations like Jordan, Egypt, Syria, etc… the underground movement is still very shy and not as present due to the tight political regime and the strict rules against public expression. In Lebanon graffiti is not yet seen as vandalism and against the law. As long as the message of the graffiti that is sprayed by the artist does not imply any direct political meaning, even though it is not a legal act, graffiti artists are still spraying on walls even in broad daylight. In Palestine, graffiti is a very risky act of vandalism. The graffiti artists are active members in political Palestinian factions like “Hamas” or “Fatah”. They are trained, and when ready, they are asked to spray big murals while risking their lives in front of Israeli soldiers. Analyzing the written graffiti words or sentences and tracing back the political, economical or social reasons behind them, lends the art piece a different perspective.
“Kaf-Boom” poster for the lecture at NDU, City Street Conference.
 ARABIC GRAFFITI IN LEBANON
During the last 30 years, most of the urban graffiti in Lebanon was political or sectarian. The voice of the Lebanese people was not manifested in the street writings; instead, the slogans of the political leaders were covering all the walls. During the Lebanese Civil War from the 1975 till 1990, Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian soldiers and militias used graffiti as the main media to spread their slogans and propaganda. Each party had its own logo or icon and stencils which they used to mark territories in Beirut and all over Lebanon. The icons created an encoded map of Beirut and towns all over Lebanon.
Graffiti by nature is an underground act originated from the people to voice out their worries and needs, to rebel against a situation, or to carry a cause. Since 2005 onwards, the number of political writings on the roads started decreasing since the politicians took over the billboards and the TV stations. At the same time, the graffiti and rap underground movement’s influence on the Arabic artists was increasing. Since then, the artistic underground graffiti art became more present on the streets of Beirut, and the uprising of small Arabic rap and hip hop bands followed. Hip Hop and graffiti art go together, and most of the Lebanese Arabic Hip Hop bands are also graffiti artists.
When Lebanese graffiti groups started drawing in Lebanon, they first chose hidden walls and surfaces in old neglected factories or train stations. These places were their practice ground. They are hidden from the public view, and the law cannot spot them in action. When the Lebanese graffiti artists got more confident of their writings, they went unrestricted by the police, and took over the walls around main highways and old train stations. There are several graffiti groups nowadays in Lebanon, and it seems like each group took over a certain area as his own to tag and draw on it. The most present graffiti areas in Beirut are the “Naher Al Mot” highways, Karantina-Hazmiyé highway, the seaside road from Antelias to Beirut, Monot side alleys, Gemeyzé side roads, Marina in Dbayé, Hamra side streets, Bliss Street and other places.
The most known graffiti groups in Lebanon are Ashekman, Rek, Katiba Khamsa and P+G Group. Ashekman and Katiba Khamsa are also Arabic rap artists.
Before the underground graffiti started in Lebanon, graffiti was always present in the calligraphic writings on the trucks and shop signs (not forgetting the previously mentioned political sprayed writings that existed during and after the civil war). The calligraphy work done on the trucks with vernacular Lebanese sayings and icons are a unique aspect. The Arabic calligraphy is a flowing expressive writing, and it lends that unique Arabic oriental characteristic to wherever place or item it is applied on.
During the last few years, several Arabic graffiti workshops took place in Lebanon. Two workshops one in Tripoli in November 2006 and another in Beirut November 2008 were the most prominent. A five-day workshop entitled “Spray Can Art, Culture is Dialog – Graffiti Workshop for young local artists” was given by the German graffiti artist Claudia Walde in collaboration with “The German Dialog Centre / Tripoli” and the “Goethe Institue” on the 29th of November 2006. Claude introduced the participants to the techniques, cultural history and social relevance of Graffiti art in the first day. The following two days were drawing and sketching for the young artists to express their thoughts on paper. During the last two days the workshop participants created graffiti on a public wall “Mal’ab al-Muharram, Bahsas” in Tripoli. The theme of the joint artwork was “Culture is dialog”.
Claude introduced the participants to the techniques, cultural history and social relevance of Graffiti art in the first day. The following two days were drawing and sketching for the young artists to express their thoughts on paper. During the last two days the workshop participants created graffiti on a public wall “Mal’ab al-Muharram, Bahsas” in Tripoli. The theme of the joint artwork was “Culture is dialog”.
The other workshop was given by “STONE” (Don Karl) in collaboration with “Goethe Institut” and “SoundBomb” and it was held at Zico House. It was a three-day workshop. The first day STONE gave presentations about graffiti. Later, people started thinking of the graffiti they wanted to make and proceeded with sketching and drawing what will become the graffiti artworks that are now present on the road from “Mat7af” to “Karantina” facing the “Peugeot” showroom. Some artists made delicate tags while others created graffiti with strong messages concerning the Lebanese political or social problems. As long as the artworks did not mention or attack any political leader, the Lebanese police did not have a problem with the artists; they even enjoyed watching the process.
Some artists made delicate tags while others created graffiti with strong messages concerning the Lebanese political or social problems. As long as the artworks did not mention or attack any political party leader, the Lebanese police did not have a problem with the artists; they even enjoyed watching the process.
After both workshops, new paintings from local graffiti artists started appearing on the walls long after the workshop was over. Graffiti is a street art with a social integration with the urban life of the people.
 ARABIC GRAFFITI IN PALESTINE
The graffiti writing grew out increasingly throughout the Intifada, since it was the quickest method to spread out the news of the Intifada. All the Palestinian factions, without exception, employed it. In the beginning it was limited to quick sketches gradually evolving into a beautiful artistic visuals. What is outstanding about the graffiti in Palestine is the fact that the artists get Arabic calligraphy training by their respective political factions until the time comes for them to start creating murals. The use of traditional Arabic calligraphic styles in the creation of the graffiti lends the Palestinian urban street art a unique Arabic style. Compared to the Lebanese graffiti that is inspired from the western graffiti styles, we can say that the Palestinian graffiti is a true Arabic urban art intervention.
The graffiti artist are trained and protected by the Palestinian factions while the Israeli soldiers hunt them. The graffiti artists are accompanied by Palestinian fighters who guard them form the Israeli soldiers. Since graffiti is one of the fastest and cheapest media, the Palestinian factions can use it to spread their news, morn a martyr or spread propaganda. Israeli soldiers are ordered to shoot any graffiti artist in action.
Graffiti in Palestine, which is mostly expressionist drawings dealing with the population’s struggle and pain, is strongly present in Gaza. Various drawings can be seen symbolizing holiday wishes such as during Ramadan, celebrations of Palestinian organizations’ activities and martyrs’ eulogies. The expressions were of various styles: religious, poetical, or even in zajal forms and were predominantly colored red and black.
The popularity of this communication medium, which transformed a wall into a channel not less important than newspapers, was due to the confidence that people attributed to graffiti. Certain factors contributed to the popularity of some locations among graffiti artists more than others. Typically, the safest regions gave them more freedom for work. The graffiti painting would be conducted by groups; people to paint and others to guard. However, other less secure locations were explored; depending on the occasion, artists would paint on occupant’s headquarters, army posts or even their vehicles. Sometimes even on certain shops to warn their owners for violating directives. Another preferred location for artists would be the populated areas, as these would guarantee a wider reach.
The text below expresses the thought of active Palestinian graffiti artist:
Several expressionists believe that the graffiti is quite an important, modern and cultural tool.
Most agree that graffiti is the quickest and best method for directly communicating with the public; it allows live interaction with the people as they do not need to go into a gallery to appreciate the work.
Most artists are excited when groups gather around them to see the work evolving into beautiful artistic piece, and they can instantly grasp the feedback of the population to their work. An additional appeal of graffiti to artists is the fact that it is a collective work, which opens up more creative expression for them.
Finally, artists are able to express the population’s concerns, worries and even joys, while transforming blocks of concrete into works of art. Since the graffiti is intended to be seen by all layers of society, its language, design and content must be clear, simple and legible; which, naturally, guarantees its increasing popularity.
There are several international graffiti artists who have visited Palestine or Israel especially to make their graffiti on the Wall and express their thoughts about the crisis between the two nations. In August 2005, Banksy, a quasi-anonymous British graffiti artist, painted nine images on the Israeli West Bank barrier, including an image of a ladder going up and over the wall and an image of children digging a hole through the wall. Besides international acclaimed graffiti artists drawing in Palestine, there was a number of graffiti workshops happening for children and young artists organized by the UNERWA. The workshops were aimed to make the children and the young artists to express their pain and feelings through the drawings.
 ARABIC GRAFFITI IN JORDAN, EGYPT & OTHER ARAB NATIONS
The graffiti scene in other Arabic nations besides Lebanon and Palestine is very shy. Part of it is due to the fact that most Arab nations have quasi-dictatorship political systems and the people are afraid to express their thoughts publicly, and the fact that they do not have any underground cultural movements. Another reason might be that Lebanon and Palestine are nations with chaotic, unstable political, economical and social environments that the artists took to the streets to express their frustrations.
In Jordan there is one young graffiti artist named ARO who is tagging his name all over the capital Amman in different styles. There are not yet any social or political graffiti present there. In the coming years when the underground movement is more mature and more graffiti groups start tagging the city, it is probable that Amman will witness a true graffiti scene.
In Egypt the graffiti scene is likewise. Few stencil graffiti can be found in Cairo. Some collages can be seen in Alexandria. Usually, the Graffiti is done on the old ruined walls in the streets. Most of the questions or imagery shown are of social context and not of political nature. It just makes people think and wonder about the new graphics on the old ruined wall towards which they probably would never have glanced.
 Mia Gröndahl, Gaza Graffiti, Messages of Love and politics, The American University of Cairo Press, 2009.
 Tala F. Saleh, Marking Beirut – A City Revealed Through Its Graffiti, 2009.
 Dr. Moussa Ali Taleb, The Palestinian – Israeli Conflict in the Media.
 DropDrop, The Book of Tags, Kitchen 93, 2005.
 Palestinian Graffii Artists:
Fayez Al Sersawi, Samir Al Hallak, Rima Al Zain, Maha Al Daya, Hazem Harb.