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 centred 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 civilisations 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

Filmed by 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

  • Herta Müller

    Putin makes me sick

    "It's outrageous and it's far worse than what we had in our dictatorships back then", says German writer Herta Müller about Vladimir Putin and Russia's interference in the Ukraine.

  • Dan Colen

    From bad boy to favorite son

    "We were really like running wild and we spent a lot of time shutting the world out". American artist Dan Colen looking back upon his collaboration with fellow artists Ryan McGinley and Dash Snow while they were "destroying rooms" but in their heads thinking "we are not hurting anything".

  • Paterson & Atwood

    Future Library

    Come take a walk in the forest with Scottish artist Katie Paterson, who tells us about her artwork Future Library. And meets world famous writer Margaret Atwood, who will write this future library's first story, not to be published for 100 years.

  • Salman Rushdie

    A chance of lasting

    "I feel very proud to be part of this resistance", says the acclaimed British writer Salman Rushdie reflecting on his book The Satanic Verses and the years of the fatwa. "Today people are much weaker. I wonder if such an act of collective solidarity would ever happen again."

  • Daniel Richter

    On Emil Nolde

    Emil Nolde was a Nazi - and so what, asks contemporary German artist Daniel Richter. "It's a moralistic debate. A debate, that mirrors the moralism and bigottery of a generation that seems to think, that the world is a moral playground."

  • Darren Almond

    The landscape of the night

    The landscape of the night is like a Jackson Pollock painting - you know it's a Pollock straight away. You can read every mark within miliseconds, you feel the void, there is this calmness, that comes upon you. Interview with British artist Darren Almond about his series of full moon pictures.

  • Bill Viola

    The tone of being

    Aside from a magical visual side, Bill Violas videos are always accompanied by marvelous sound. In this interview Viola talks about the importance of sound in his work and how he is guided by a kind of 'undersound'.

  • Salman Rushdie

    A line had to be defended

    "It wasn't only about me. It was a moment, when a line had to be held when you could not concede the fight", says the author of The Satanic Verses, Salman Rusdie, in this outtake from a longer interview about his life and work.

  • John Giorno

    Poets are mirrors of the mind

    Meet one of the great originators of performance poetry, John Giorno, as he looks back at his first meetings with poetry, his great influences, the importance of performing without a book, and where poetry is headed in the future.

  • Sarah Sze

    The meaning between things

    ”A sculpture is constantly growing and dying at the same time. It is a parallel process of construction and deconstruction.” Meet contemporary artist Sarah Sze in her New York studio.

  • Ian McEwan

    Reading from 'Sweet Tooth'

    During the Cold War CIA and MI6 funded cultural fronts. To promote the open societies agents had to operate in deep secret, an absurdity that drew Ian McEwan to write the spy novel ’Sweet Tooth’, which he reads from here.

  • Jørgen Leth

    Andy Warhol eating a hamburger

    Let acclaimed film director Jørgen Leth take you through the iconic scene with Andy Warhol eating a hamburger from his film, 66 Scenes from America.