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As Abu Dhabi prepares to host a street art exhibition next month, Kipp looks at the equally loved and vilified art form, and how it’s evolving on our streets.
April 24, 2012 12:36 by Jyothi M.V.
To some, it is pure nuisance. To others, pure art.Street art remains illegal in most countries around the world, but its penchant for activism and subversion has kept the art form cool, and most importantly, relevant. And what better time and place to be significant than in the Middle East, during the Arab Spring, summer, fall and winter.
It’s been an eventful time in the region, and this was reflected in city streets; Cairo emerged as the street art capital of the Middle East last year, when slogans calling for former President Hosni Mubarak began popping up. Last year, Madrid hosted an exhibition of Arab street art of the revolution, showcasing homegrown talent from Libya, Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt, among others.
In the UAE, while the practice is prohibited and could carry a Dhs10,000 fine and a year in jail, several artists have been leaving their mark on the streets. Most recently, an artist who goes by the name Arcadia Blank tagged Dubai walls with slogans like “We are the dreamakers” scribbled on the walls of labourers’ accommodation, or “Modernity is melting”. Arcadia Blank has gained notoriety in a region becoming increasingly interested in street art. In fact, Abu Dhabi will host a street art exhibition for the first time next month - “Legends of Street Art” will feature the likes of Banksy, and Shepard Fairy, and local artist Chilmiran.
In anticipation of next month’s event, Kipp takes a look at street artists who’ve left their mark on our urban lives.
He has remained anonymous for the last ten years, since his artwork first began to make public appearances.
His first film Exit Through the Gift Shop was billed as the “the world’s first street art disaster movie”.
He has famously painted along the wall that Israel has built to separate it from the West Bank.
Recent activities: His first book titled: 'You Are an Acceptable Level of Threat' will be published by Carpet Bombing Culture, and will be released on July 2, 2012.
Interesting Facts: His tag is made out from the first letter of ‘super young artist’– a general remark his school teacher wrote on his report – SYA.
He was lured into street art after reading Subway Art, an iconic book about graffiti on the New York City subway.
Ubik first burst on the Dubai art scene with Cliché - an underground art fanzine that he published with his brother Vinay.
He likes to describe his work as “post-recession anarchist tendencies that make people smile or cringe.”
He also works as a graphic designer with a design studio.
Recent activities: He made his art fair debut with the Traffic gallery at Art Dubai in 2011, and exhibited at the fair again earlier this year.
He is signed to the Traffic gallery in Dubai, a significant step in his evolution as an artist.
Twenty-something year old Nasa Street is Palestinian born, and studies in Dubai. Among other things, he’s tagged a photo of the Mona Lisa on the DIFC walls, and says he’s “just trying to make people laugh. Nothing more.”
A piece he worked on landed him a real artist’s gig: he created two Nutella pieces reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell soup piece. After that project, he was commissioned to design the walls of a local online business.
Country: Cairo, Egypt
The French-born Tunisian creates “calligraffiti,” a blend of traditional Arabic calligraphy with modern, urban graffiti.
Recent activities: His most recent contribution to the street art scene in the UAE was at the Islamic Arts Festival in Sharjah, where he finished a huge mural using 20 spray-paint cans.
He was at Harvard this month for a live demonstration of “Calligraffiti”. He completed the work, which he called “Taking Back the Purple,” in five hours.
His latest work is an attempt to show the political changes in the Arab world.
Interesting Facts: Many of Safe's works feature Mickey Mouse in unlikely situations, such as popping out of a cigarette lighter or as an arrested criminal.
In “UN Fair”, he played with words and the logo of the United Nations to highlight the plight of the underprivileged using the best traditions of street art.
Country: Cairo, Egypt
He is more commonly known by his pseudonym, Ganzeer
Recent activities: His graffiti depicting a military tank with its turret aimed at a boy on his bike, who balances on his head one of the wooden racks that are traditionally used to deliver bread was a symbolic reference to revolutionary youth who care for the nation.
Recent activities: Earlier this year, he was arrested and charged with “disrupting public order” for having spray-painted a graffiti of a soldier armed with a machine gun called “Do Not Forget”, in reference to the Lebanese civil war. Khawam said it was “against people carrying arms”.
He’s awaiting the court verdict. He could be fined 1 million Lebanese lira (about Dhs 2,450), or could land himself three months in prison.
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