Egyptian artist Ganzeer talks change, protest and discovery

The Egyptian Revolution of January 2011 was marked by many acts of bravery – and many different forms of protest, demonstration and dissent. Selections spoke to Mohamed Fahmy, aka Ganzeer, one of the street artists whose work exemplified the revolutionary spirit and helped the movement to gain momentum. Trained as a graphic designed, Ganzeer, who is currently based in the U.S., works across multiple media. He is currently working on a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi graphic novel called THE SOLAR GRID.

Why did you choose the name Ganzeer?
“Ganzeer” is Egyptian Arabic for the chain that connects the pedals of a bicycle to the wheel. As such, a ganzeer acts as a facilitator of propulsion. It isn’t the actual source of propulsion, but merely by connecting the source of propulsion to other mechanisms, it allows for propulsion to occur. In a way, that’s sort of how I look at my role as an artist and designer. I don’t think that anything I do is terribly new or the source of change, but perhaps by drawing certain connections between preconceived notions, some kind of change may be possible.

During the Egyptian revolution, your murals were seen around the world. How important do you think the role of street artists was in supporting the protest movement in Tahrir Square?
I have to say I’m not entirely sure. It’s been a long, gruelling revolution with many disheartening moments when making art felt like an utterly useless thing. On the other hand, there were points when I think you could tell that art was powerful enough to alter things. A good example would the difference between popular sentiments towards the Egyptian military apparatus in early 2011 and the end of 2011.

Early on, people put the military on a pedestal believing that it had sided with the revolution against Mubarak… By the end of the year however, there were several large protests demanding the resignation of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the hanging of Field Marshall Tantawy… The military’s mismanagement of the post-Mubarak transitional period itself should take most credit for this change in attitude, but before any of these protests took place, the first criticism of the military apparatus appeared in the form of street art.

You work across a hugely diverse range of media, from street art, to film, graphic design and installation. What drives you to constantly experiment with the format of your work?
In some ways I think it’s a very intuitive and normal way to go about doing things. As children, when we play with little building blocks, our parents don’t take them away from us and say, ‘Sorry kid, you can only use crayons.’ As children, we’re sort of expected to play around and experiment with a variety of things. It is only as grown-ups that society expects less of us, expects us to perform one type of task… I’m very much driven by discovery; discovering new tools, new modes of expression, and how to use them – which is probably the same thing that drove me as a child.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Urban Art Issue #37, on pages 50-51.