“I used to say I’m not political, but I realised that everything you do is political. Walking down the street is political,” she says. “So, it is political, but it doesn’t have to be propaganda.”
Although much attention was given to Egyptian street art after the revolution in 2011, the trigger for the Arab Spring, street artist Aya Tarek has been making work since 2008 when she was just 18 years old. She found her fine art classes at the Alexandria University too restricting, and so she cleaned up her grandfather’s studio and invited her friends over to experiment with non-traditional art forms. The walls all over Alexandria soon became her canvas.
“I think Downtown Alexandria inspired everything I do. The architecture from back then was really great. I used to hang out and see these amazing buildings in Art Deco. Even during the 90s, the city was stuck in the 60s, so the comics I used to buy were from the 60s. Everything was time capsuled in this era and we didn’t have anything else. So it was like I was in a different era, in this era,” Tarek explains in an interview with Cairo Scene.
Challenging the institutionalized approach to art creation and art display, her work has seen her travel to Beirut, Berlin, Cologne and Frankfurt. Her work has seen her recognized as one of the first serious street artists from Alexandria. This caught the attention of independent filmmaker Ahmed Abdallah, and led to Tarek being featured in the film Microphone, which explores Alexandria’s art scene.
Tarek participated in a successful exhibition titled White Wall Beirut where she and a number of other street artists from around the world were invited to create work in the Beirut Art Centre, as well as around the city. Receiving a positive response to her work, Tarek commented that she prefers making work on the streets and not within exclusive art walls. By creating work on the streets people who are intimidated by galleries and museums are able to engage with her work.
While Tarek appreciates the attention given to artists after the revolution in 2011, she tries to shy away from making her work directly political. She explains that she would like her work to seen for its artistic value and not simply because she is an Arab woman creating work within a highly contested political environment. Despite this desire she acknowledges the fact that existing and creating cannot be divorced from politics.
Check out more of her work on Facebook.