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.

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

  • Alex Da Corte

    Dancing Around Delusion

    “Art was like sex.” Alex Da Corte is a rising star on the international art scene – his artistic expression a mixture of pop art and a strong personal story. We spent a day with him in his neighborhood in Philadelphia to talk about his creative journey.

  • Lars Norén

    Art as an Underwater Bomb

    The unsurpassed Swedish playwright Lars Norén grew up in a home that felt “radically unsafe.” In this rare interview he traces his writing back to his childhood experiences: “They could've locked me in the basement at age 11 because I had so much material.”

  • Dissing+Weitling

    The Bicycle Snake

    ‘The Bicycle Snake’ is Copenhagen’s new architectonic trademark. It elegantly connects two parts of the city, which is one of the world’s most bike-friendly places. We visited Dissing+Weitling Architecture to hear their thoughts on the iconic construction.

  • Nick Laird

    Reading his Poems

    “Quickly and awkwardly, I think is how I shall read.” Enjoy this evocative video in which Northern Irish poet and novelist Nick Laird reads from a selection of his powerful and commended poetry collections.

  • Hans-Peter Feldmann

    Advice to the Young

    German artist Hans-Peter Feldmann advises young artists to always follow the path they themselves feel is the right one – however strange or fruitless it seems: “Chasing after false idols or role models is always a dead end.”

  • Alfredo Jaar

    Images are not Innocent

    "A million people were killed in 100 days under the criminal indifference of the world". In this interview artist Alfredo Jaar reminds us of the importance of images and why they are not innocent.

  • Colum McCann

    Do What is Most Difficult

    Novelist Colum McCann writes in a cupboard by choice. Watch the charming Irishman discuss with great playfulness how writers are constantly faced with improbable but necessary tasks: “It’s like trying to solve a problem in complex mathematics.”

  • Norman Foster

    Advice to the Young

    Norman Foster, one of the architectural icons of our time, here advises upcoming architects and artists to make sure that what they’re doing is their true desire – if not, they should simply find something else.

  • Jake and Dinos Chapman

    Hitler Turning in his Grave

    Death threats from neo-Nazis was just one of the many extreme responses to the English artist duo Jake and Dinos Chapman’s controversial and much debated exhibition of modified watercolours by Hitler. Hear their thoughts on the divisive project.

  • Daniel Lanois

    Advice to the Young

    “Should one be so lucky to find something they are good at, then pursue it with full passion, man.” Spot-on advice from one of the world’s most sought-after producers Daniel Lanois, who forwards wisdom from the legendary Brian Eno.

  • Joyce Carol Oates

    Speaking of the Devil

    “American history has a kind of tragic cyclical nature to it.” A thought-provoking interview with American writer Joyce Carol Oates, who ponders on how the concept of ‘devils’ has always been predominant in American society.

  • Klaus Rifbjerg

    A Little While Longer

    Klaus Rifbjerg (1931-2015) is one of the great masters of Danish literature. In this deeply personal and moving interview from 2013, the writer looks back on his life and literary career, reflecting on what it means to age – and to die.