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

  • Terry Winters

    Unintended Things to Happen

    In a culture full of digital images and copies, painting is a “singular lens with the capacity to reflect an individual’s vision,” says American artist Terry Winters. Hear how he applies a “painterly approach” to his work with printmaking and drawing.

  • Nobuo Sekine

    Sensibility of a Rock

    “I create works with the perspective of admiration for nature. I believe that my job is to convey the richness of nature to viewers.” Japanese artist Nobuo Sekine’s sculptures defy gravity. Learn how he got the idea to elevate a rock – and make it fly.

  • Alan Hollinghurst

    The Secret Life of a Poem

    An inspiring conversation with the award-winning English novelist Alan Hollinghurst – noted for his novel ‘The Line of Beauty’ – about being a sort of puppet master to his characters and being characterized as “a gay writer.”

  • Gardar Eide Einarsson

    The Violence Under the Surface

    “I’ve lost the youthful naivety that leads me to think authorities should be torn down. I see it as an on-going negotiation.” Norwegian-born Gardar Eide Einarsson, who is now based in Tokyo, knows first-hand how different societies deal with authority.

  • Sing Along With Brian Eno

    "I believe in singing together," says Brian Eno, widely regarded as the intellectual icon of modern western music. Join him as he humorously conducts a public morning choir with songs and spirituals of his own choice.

  • Richard Ford & Colm Tóibín

    Narrators Are Unreliable

    “You have to write about the thing you’ll be the world’s greatest expert in.” In this humorous conversation award-winning authors and friends Richard Ford and Colm Tóibín discuss each other’s work and exchange the secrets to prose writing.

  • Steve Roggenbuck

    A Poet From the Internet

    “I don’t know if you should call these videos poetry or not, but they’re what happens when a poet starts making YouTube videos.” Meet Steve Roggenbuck, a young poet who has been compared to Walt Whitman and who sees social media as poetry.

  • Gerhard Richter

    In Art We Find Beauty and Comfort

    “I don’t really believe art has power. But it does have value. Those who take an interest in it find solace in art. It gives them huge comfort.” Gerhard Richter, one of the greatest painters of our time, discusses beauty in the era of the internet.

  • Taryn Simon

    Where the Secret Goes

    Like a spy, American artist Taryn Simon uncovers the hidden places of the USA, portraying her country through its foundational spaces: religion, security, law. Like the country itself, the meaning, says Simon, is “ever morphing.”

  • Joan Jonas

    Advice to the Young

    “Love what you do. Because it’s not easy. It’s not easy to make art.” Watch as the iconic video and performance artist Joan Jonas advises her younger colleagues to enjoy what they’re doing as you never know how people will respond to your work.

  • Wura-Natasha Ogunji

    The Kissing Mask

    “Kissing can be so many things…a way of connection that is purely about recognising another person’s humanity, divinity and essence.” Meet artist Wura-Natasha Ogunji, who sees performance as a way to witness and transcend the flaws of human nature.

  • Ragnar Kjartansson

    on Stage with his Mother

    The "mother with child" is one of the oldest clichés in the art historical vocabulary. Performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson grew up in the theatre with an actress-mother who attuned him to what he calls "the realness of fakeness."