Bahia Shehab

Bahia Shehab

Art as a Tool for Change

"Graffiti is like flowers. They are beautiful, but they don't live long." An interview with Lebanese-Egyptian street-artist Bahia Shehab about the role of art during the Arab spring: "You cannot resist ideas. They can travel into any mind."

"I am a quiet person, I don't know how to scream," says Bahia Shehab. "My contribution to the revolution was to paint on the walls, was to be an artist." During the Arab spring many artists felt the urge to rush to the streets, Shehab explains. At the time, there was no tomorrow, one did not think of possible repercussions, she says: "When you loose hope with everything around you, you go down to the street. Your only hope is the people. This is who you paint and work for. It's their minds, you try to influence."

At the time Bahia became known for a series of graffiti centered around the word 'no' - No to Military Rule, No to Emergency Law, No to Stripping the People, No to Blinding Heroes, No to Burning books, No to Violence, No to Stealing the Revolution, No to a New Pharaoh besides others.

"Our work gets erased very quickly on the street. That's why TV and the internet are very useful tools - you can communicate your messages in the digital sphere. That's the game-changer now. The government can resist you, it can try to hide, what you try to communicate, but it's a completely different ballgame now."

"I believe, that art can change lives," Bahia Shehab continues: "It's a very powerful tool. It's a therapy. In some civilizations art is used to cure you from a disease." Art can be perceived by anybody on different levels. The more art there is in the public sphere, the better the society around it.

"In our case, we are not trying to install beauty. We have not yet reached that level. We communicate ideas of change to society. Because we believe in change and we believe in art as a tool for change. We are still on survival mode."

"It takes time to create change. New ideas are always opposed. Humans like normality, we like our comfort-zone. They don't like change, that is drastic. But enlightenment is not selective. Some people keep dreaming. Dreaming of a better future. We hope to grow the circle of dreamers. Society is not driven by people, that are pragmatic and realistic. It's only driven by the crazy ones, the dreamers."

Bahia Shehab (b.1977) is an artist, designer and Islamic art historian studying ancient Arabic script and visual heritage. Shehab is a Creative Director with MI7-Cairo working on projects relevant to cultural heritage and she is also associate professor of professional practice at The American University in Cairo. She has developed and launched the new graphic design program for the Department of the Arts with courses mainly focused on the visual culture of the Arab world. She is currently a PhD candidate at Leiden University in Holland. Her research is on Fatimid Kufic inscriptions on portable items in the Mediterranean basin and beyond.

Bahia Shehab was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner.

Camera: Steen Møller Rasmussen
Edited by: Kamilla Bruus
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2014

Supported by Nordea-fonden

  • Doug Aitken

    The Nomadic Studio

    In this interview featuring extracts from Doug Aitken’s visually stunning videos, the American multimedia artist offers insight into his captivating work and how he learns from “watching things become a car crash in slow motion.”

  • Richard Ford

    Art is Heavy Lifting

    Watch Richard Ford on escaping the ‘southern writer’ label and how writing a novel is satisfyingly hard work: “Why should it be simple? Why shouldn’t it be a clerical nightmare? Why shouldn’t it take four years? That’s what I want it to be – a masterpiece.”

  • Joshua Oppenheimer

    Advice to the Young

    “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you how it should be done.” The commended American director Joshua Oppenheimer – nominated twice for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature – here shares his powerful advice for aspiring filmmakers.

  • Rachel Kushner

    Putting in the Hours

    “There’s something about habit that’s elemental.” American author Rachel Kushner has no doubt that consistent work on a novel is key. You never know when a moment of inspiration is going to hit – but when it does, you have to be there.

  • Margarethe von Trotta

    A Group of Rebels

    Award-winning film director Margarethe von Trotta – who has worked closely with the legendary directors Fassbinder and Schlöndorff – here shares the story of her winding road to becoming one of the leading contemporary German filmmakers.

  • Superflex

    Why We Flooded McDonald’s

    What motivates a Danish artists' group to make a movie where one of the most famous American fast food restaurants is inexplicably flooded? Superflex here comment on the content of their “post-apocalyptic movie” ‘Flooded McDonald’s’.

  • Peter Zumthor

    Different Kinds of Silence

    We visited Peter Zumthor – one of the world’s leading architects – in his studio in Switzerland. In this extensive and rare biographical video interview he tells the captivating story of his childhood, his studies in NYC and his parents’ strong influence.

  • Anna Bjerger

    It's All About Process

    “The painting moves me forward – and I follow.” Meet Swedish Anna Bjerger, who wants to preserve the excitement of painting, and who paints from photographs, feeling that she can somehow rescue images “that would otherwise disappear.”

  • 3 Artists

    On Yayoi Kusama’s Phalli’s Field

    An absorbing installation of mirrors and soft polka dots by Yayoi Kusama. Join artists Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen, Astrid Svangren and Alexander Tovborg as they explore what Kusama herself describes as “a sublime, miraculous field of phalluses.”

  • Colm Tóibín

    On Writing

    The award-winning Irish writer Colm Tóibín here shares his meticulous approach to writing, and how a novel can begin with – and build on – just one perfectly shaped sentence: “It moves into rhythm when you least expect it.”

  • David Shrigley

    Advice to the Young

    “You’re on the right track if you’re excited about what you’re doing.” David Shrigley, known for his humorous spin on common situations, here advises his colleagues to be open to learning from mistakes and stresses that being an artist “isn’t for everybody.”

  • Richard Ford

    Politicians are Liars

    “You get the politics that you deserve.” Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Richard Ford here speaks bluntly of the interplay between politicians and the public in America, arguing that people can only blame themselves for being lied to by politicians.