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

  • Karl Ove Knausgård

    Literature Should be Ruthless

    Karl Ove Knausgård has enchanted the literary world with ‘My Struggle’, a novel of more than 3000 pages about his own life. Watch the star author discuss literature, writing and how his autobiographical style is closely connected to fiction.

  • Ann Veronica Janssens

    Passion for Light

    Step into the laboratory of an artist whose main material is light. Whether solid, liquid or gaseous Ann Veronica Janssens uses light in all its forms “to show the manifestations of reality in a different way.”

  • Athi-Patra Ruga

    A Glimpse of Utopia

    “Somehow resistance is what validates an identity. Growing up gay, black and non-Christian, it kind of is something I love playing with.” Athi-Patra Ruga's sensuous work makes us question everyday life.

  • Catherine Opie

    A World Beyond Selfies

    “I was never an optimist in thinking that my images would change laws. But I certainly thought that I would be able to create a history.” Catherine Opie, photographer of minority groups and subcultures, can be both political and very internal.

  • Peaches

    Love Your Vagina

    ”It’s most important right now that men be feminists. If women say they aren’t it’s only because the word is not relating to them and we need to find new terms.” Electronic musician and performance artist Peaches wants us to question norms.

  • Alex Da Corte & Jørgen Leth

    Eminem and Warhol

    Two American icons portrayed eating. Young Alex Da Corte, who impersonated Eminem for a year, was inspired by film director Jørgen Leth, who made an iconic scene with Andy Warhol. Here they meet on stage to talk about the stunning parallels.

  • Tomas Espedal Meets

    Karl Ove Knausgård

    For the first time ever the two giants in Scandinavian literature, Norwegian writers Tomas Espedal and Karl Ove Knausgård, meet on stage – about writing their autobiographical novels where you "have to proceed even though you feel the danger."

  • Daniel Richter

    A German Painter

    “The studio is the sponge and the outside world is the water … The sponge is dipped into reality and then squeezed out.” Daniel Richter, one of the most important painters of his generation, talks about the transformative power of painting.

  • Tiffany Chung

    Maps of Memory

    One of the biggest political and social issues of our time is the refugee crisis. Meet Vietnamese-American artist Tiffany Chung who uses questions of migration, conflict and cultural memory as the raw material for her art.

  • Erik A. Frandsen

    Drawing Out Memories

    Distinguished Danish artist Erik A. Frandsen here shares how the trance-like experience of a 35 days and 1,050-kilometre long walk was transferred into a stunning exhibition of multi-coloured mosaic columns and beautiful watercolour sketches.

  • 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.”

  • Manal Al Dowayan

    Protecting Words

    “The written word is about engaging the viewer.” Let us introduce you to the cool Saudi Arabian artist Manal Al Dowayan, who here shares why she has chosen to integrate words into her art – and why they are so powerful.