'Cairo under the Crackdown'

Ganzeer is a versatile Egyptian artist, notable for his socio-political messages. Much like the Tunisian artist Nadia Khiari he rose to prominence during the 2011 Arab Spring, when many authoritarian regimes in North Africa and the Middle East where toppled after decades of oppression. Together with fellow spirits he made several graffiti murals which criticized the Egyptian government. Since 2014 he lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, where he continues to - literally and figure of speech - draw attention to the situation in Egypt, but also created artworks which criticize the West. Despite being mostly associated with graffiti art Ganzeer has also created a few one-shot comics and a full-blown dystopian graphic novel: 'The Solar Grid' (2019).

Early life and career
He was born in 1982 in Giza as Mohamed Fahmy. Fahmy loved comics as a child and always wanted to become a cartoonist. Among his graphic influences are Ammar Abo Bakr, Frank Lloyd Wright, Philippe Starck, Dieter Rams, James Harvey, Milton Glaser, Paul Rand, David Hockney, Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Sergio Toppi and Mike Mignola. Fahmy once e-mailed Warren Ellis to ask for creative advice and whether he should make superhero comics, to which the author replied: "Do your own thing". The young Egyptian followed his advice and tried to study art, but failed to pass the entrance exam. He studied at a business school instead, yet returned to graphic design after graduation. In 2005 Fahmy and his friends set up a multidisciplinary studio named "Ganzeer", the Arabic word for "(bicycle) chain". In a 7 November 2017 interview with Farah Safie on her blog he explained that a bicycle chain connects the pedals to the wheels, thus making motion possible, although the source of motion comes from elsewhere. Many people who visited the place often addressed Fahmy as 'Ganzeer', thinking he named the shop after himself. Out of convencience Fahmy eventually signed all his artistic work under the name Ganzeer, while signing his commercial work with the name "Mofa". By 2010 he mostly abandoned advertising art and therefore used Ganzeer as his permanent pseudonym.

Street art
In 2011 many countries in North Africa and the Middle East experienced revolutions, dubbed the "Arab Spring" in the press. In Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Egypt entire governments were toppled after years of oppression. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was forced to abdicate, but not after a long violent struggle to maintain his power. In the midst of these events, on 25 January 2011 to be precise, Ganzeer became a politically conscious artist. He and his fellow artistic friends - people like El Teneen, Adham Bakry, Mohamed Hassan and Abdullah Ragab - started creating mural paintings, posters and stickers which criticized the government and paid homage to the victims of the regime. While British graffiti artist Banksy was an important inspiration, Ganzeer has always stressed that they weren't interested in artistic self-expression, more with voicing protest and the opinion of the man in the street. On the same token he dismisses the monicker "street artist" to describe his artistic profession, because graffiti is just one of several outlets he uses. In his opinion he is a self-described "contingency artist" - one who uses whatever means necessary to create his work and message.

In March 2011 Ganzeer and a couple of volunteers he gathered together on Twitter created a huge wall painting of a 16 year-old boy who was shot by the police just days earlier. The most iconic mural by Ganzeer depicts a a huge tank threatening a bicyclist with a tray of bread (a pun on the Egyptian word "life") on his head. One famous poster by his hand depicts a masked head whose mouth is gagged. The work was subtitled "the Freedom Mask. Greetings from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to the people. Now available on the market for a limited time." On 26 May 2011 Ganzeer was arrested along with film director Aida El-Kashef and musician Nadim X on the suspicion of "being spies". Thanks to support on social media they were quickly released without official charges. The next day people had duplicated his 'Freedom Mask' image on many posters, stickers and T-shirts, all over the Tahrir Square in Cairo.

When Mohammed Morsi became president of Egypt in 2012, Ganzeer painted a highly provocative image of a nude woman in a hijab, praying for her husband to give her oral gratification. His political satire increased when Morsi was ousted in a 2013 coup by Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who put himself forward as presidential candidate for the upcoming 2014 elections. Ganzeer and a group of like-minded artists started the media project #SisiWarCrimes to protest his candidacy. The mural painting 'The Army Above All', depicts a zombie soldier standing atop a pile of skulls. Another cartoon depicted Sisi in military uniform with a TV screen instead of a face, displaying a picture of a nervous rabbit muttering: "Who's afraid of art?". The cartoons were widespread, making Sisi's allies quite nervous. On 9 May 2014, in a broadcast of 'Al-Raees Wel Nas' ('The President and the People'), host Osama Kamal claimed that Ganzeer "had been recruited by the Muslim Brotherhood", despite having no proof for these claims. He called for immediate government action. Two days later Ganzeer fled his home country. It wasn't a paranoid move, because Sisi was elected president on 26-28 May, with an absurdly high amount of votes. In the final week of June 2014 another graffiti artist, Hisham Riszk, went missing. A week later, on 4 July, his drowned body was found in the Nile...

Move to the U.S.
Ganzeer moved to Brooklyn, New York City, but Sisi's regime wasn't rid off him yet. The exhiled artist continues to make people aware of the situation in his homeland and pressures the West to stop sending money and weapons to Sisi's government. In a 6 March 2015 interview with Christopher Lydon for Radio Open Source, Ganzeer said: "The one obvious change you can see since the 'revolution' in Egypt is that the police force has become incredibly heavily militarized now - and of course these weapons come from the Egyptian military, which gets its weapons from the United States of America. So of course the US government has a direct involvement in the killing of Egyptian people on the streets of Cairo today, and the American people do not know that. And the fact they do not know exemplifies the kind of democracy that they actually have. How is it that these people think they live in a country where they do control the government's actions and don't even know that their government is supplying weapons to kill people across the world?"

Ganzeer refuses to restrict himself to only criticizing Egypt and be patted on the head by Westerners. He is just as critical of racism, nationalism, imperialism, consumerism and war mongering in North America and Europa. Or as he put it: "When you see injustice somewhere you want to call bullshit on it." Together with Tunisian street artist el-Seed and German graffiti artist Case, Ganzeer made a painting of an African child soldier holding the outline of a gun. Originally the gun had been filled with euros, criticizing German banks funding foreign wars, but spectators in the Frankfurt museum where this was exhibited were so offended that some vandalized the work to remove the coins. In his 'All American' show Ganzeer parodied U.S. dollar bills, referencing the genocide against Native Americans, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act (where Chinese immigrants were barred from entering the U.S.) and the revenues of ancient Asian and African artefacts in U.S. museums while the original countries these objects came from receive nothing. All this while Disney licenses its products in foreign countries for billions of dollars... A 2015 silkscreen print depicts Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's 'Captain America' in a business suit with a ball gag in front of his mouth, reading "The Great American Mask of Freedom, since 1776 and still going strong". Yet Ganzeer has also criticized other universal hot issues in his work, among them corruption, child soldiers and sexual harassment.

The Apartment in Bab El-Louk
In 2014 Donia Maher wrote 'The Apartment in Bab El-Louk', which falls somewhat in the middle between a picture book and a comic. Most chapters are illustrated by Ganzeer, but the final nine pages - all dialogue - are presented in the style of a comic book, drawn by Ahmed Nady. The text itself isn't a real "story" either, it's more comparable to reflective poetry. Nevertheless it still won the Mahmoud Kahil Award for "Best Graphic Novel".

He published a work named 'Islamic pornography', where he uses abstract geometric visualizations which, according to traditional Islamic teachings, are acceptable as visual art. As Ganzeer explained in an interview with Marianne Roux on OnOrient.com, published on 30 July 2014: "(...) The pornographic suggestions of the pieces make them very haram. This at the end of the day proves that an art form in and of itself can never be haram or not haram. But haram only exists in some dirty ideas we have in our heads."


'Selective Myopia'.

Selective Myopia / Cairo Under the Crackdown
On 12 December 2016 Ganzeer made a comic strip named 'Selective Myopia: When Nobody Wants the Truth', which describes his life and career during the Egyptian Revolution up until his self-imposed exile in the United States. It was posted on the website thenib.com. On 2 January 2019 he posted another autobiographical comic on the same site, 'Cairo Under the Crackdown. The Vanquisher. The Man Breaker. The City', in collaboration with Yazan Al-Saadi.

The Solar Grid
For a long while Ganzeer aspired to make a full-blown graphic novel. The first three chapters of his comic strip 'The Solar Grid' were serialized online in 2016 on a bi-monthly basis. Funded by a kickstarter project he was able to finish his comic book and publish it in June 2019. The story is inspired by the Arab Spring and set in Cairo, but takes place in the far future. By now Earth has managed to terminate nightfall. A network of satellites and solar panels enlighten the entire planet 24/7, causing numerous ecological disasters. All rivers are polluted and the only drinkable source is owned by a billionaire, Al Gebri, whose monopoly made him the richest man on Earth. The comic book follows two protagonists, Mehret and Kameen, who rise against this injustice, helped by whistleblower Teddy Taplin, who was inspired by real-life whistleblower Edward Snowden... In interviews Ganzeer said he was inspired by the Aswan Dam, which was built in 1970 to better control flooding in Egypt. As a child he was impressed with this project, but as an adult he noticed the devastating side effects. The dam disrupted the natural seasonal flooding and drought which made Egypt a habital place for more than 1.000 years, causing a serious water crisis in the 2010s. Despite being inspired by Egyptian events and set in Cairo 'The Solar Grid' is a more universal tale about corporate greed, pollution and the ability of people to rise in protest. Apart from an English translation a South Korean translation is published by Huud Books. Warren Ellis and Corey J. White have praised the book.


'The Solar Grid'

Recognition
'The Apartment in Bab El-Louk' (2014), co-created with Donia Maher and Ahmed Nady, won the Mahmoud Kahil Award for "Best Graphic Novel". Foreign Policy awarded him a Global Thinker Award in 2016 for 'The Solar Grid'. Ganzeer is one of several Egyptian street artists highlighted in the documentary 'Art War' (2014) by German documentary maker Marco Wilms and the book 'Walls of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution', by Basma Hamdy and Don Karl a.k.a. Stone (published by From Here to Fame). The artist has travelled throughout Europe and the Middle East to give lectures about art and/or politics, either on a global level or specifically relating to the Arab world. These were often combined with exhibitions.

www.ganzeer.com

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