As a record of the Egyptian Spring, the euphoria and the heartbreak of a stalled revolution, this book is without equal. The wall art, which gives the book its name, is beautifully recorded and reproduced - no small achievement, bearing in mind the intrinsically ephemeral nature of graffiti and the determination of the authorities to eliminate significant works of art.
Among the many artists featured in depth, two giants have emerged - Ammar Abou Bakr and Alaa Awad. Both of these young lecturers abandoned their work at The Faculty of Fine Arts in Luxor in order to add their artistic and intellectual weight to one of the most important twenty first century events in the Arab World.
This is, literally, an extraordinary book, reaching far beyond the conventional limits of art books, and one that defies categorisation. In short, it deals with the brief and tumultuous period of the recent Egyptian revolution, news of which filled the 24 hour international TV broadcasts for several weeks and made headlines in press and broadcast media around the world.
While the heady gains of that period have somewhat receded as the establishment regained some of the control that they lost, that revolutionary period will mark an important turning point in the politics of Egypt and the Middle East, and the Arab world in general. The book was funded by crowd-sourcing and it is a mark of its international appeal that the sums of money sought were not only met, but exceeded. What happened in the cities of Egypt, coming in the wake of the Arab Spring that in itself surprised many people across the world, had a powerful international impact. One of the reasons for this is that European and international travellers have for at least two millennia been fascinated by the country and its achievements. And, as tourists still do, many of these people left their mark on the ancient monuments. When I visited the temples at Luxor some time ago I was surprised at first, but then less so, to see the name 'de Lesseps' carved neatly into the stone high up on a wall: de Lesseps went on to construct the Suez Canal. But there is something else: the Ancient Egyptians used satire as an instrument when making many of the wall paintings that have survived for over 3000 years, most of them highly critical of the establishment of their times. Leaving a mark has been a long preoccupation in Egypt as in many other long established countries. The events that began in Tunisia in December 2010 led swiftly on to major demonstrations in many Arab countries. The Tahrir Square (renamed Freedom Square) demonstrations that ignited the Egyptian revolution began on January 25th 2011 and spread rapidly across Cairo and other cities.
We have become used, now, to social media being used to transmit information from the front lines of demonstrations, not only by text but also increasingly by live video from mobile devices that circumvent the media control of the authorities. The world learned much of what was happening in Egypt by such means, even before the major news gathering networks got to the Square. Beneath and around all that news broadcasting activity there was something else less widely reported at the time, and that was the rapid spread of street art and graffiti as a way of criticising the establishment led by Mubarak and of fomenting active opposition through wall art.
'Walls of Freedom' is a large format hardback book of more than 260 pages that gives a detailed and authoritative account of the days of the revolution. The diversity and quality of much of the art may come as a surprise, but offer endless fascination and absorption, as well as admiration for the artists who took huge risks to make it in the first place. The book is filled with illustrations, many at full page size, and some foldouts, accompanied by extensive texts, both critical and informative, most of which written by those that were there and who participated in the events. That is was funded by crowd-sourcing, and that the authors and producers encountered many problems before the book was complete and ready for delivery, only adds to the extraordinary nature of the achievement.
Art can change the world... perhaps not as fully or as permanently as the artists hope, but in ways that go far beyond the more conventional methods of petitions and protest meetings. 'Walls of Freedom' is highly recommended for anyone, anywhere, with an interest in and/or commitment to art, the politics of protest, social change and the growing internationalisation of the world community. It belongs on the shelves of school and university libraries, and in the homes of anyone who cares about the future of humanity. It is that important.