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

  • Fred Tomaselli

    Reflecting the Unreal

    “The hippie dream was coming to an end.” Watch American artist Fred Tomaselli – who adds elements such as pot and pills to his work – discuss the impact psychedelic drugs had on his art and how it reflects escapism while still commenting on reality.

  • Dario Fo

    I am a Born Storyteller

    Meet legendary playwright Dario Fo, who here tells the intriguing story of how he became a storyteller and how he revolutionized theatre by “destroying the fourth wall” – encouraging his audience not to be voyeurs but to participate.

  • Dario Fo

    We Need to Intervene

    Nobel Prize recipient Dario Fo is one of the most widely performed contemporary playwrights and a well-known social critic. The 89-year-old Italian here bluntly shares his opinion about today’s corrupted Italy and theatre’s crucial role in presenting the truth.

  • Thomas Zipp

    Everybody is a Freak

    “I believe that everybody is a freak in a way. That’s what we have to accept.” Come along into the dark, uncanny – and yet humorous – world of Berlin-based artist Thomas Zipp. He here talks about letting go of ‘normality’ and the inherent potential of art.

  • Leonardo Padura & Yan Lianke

    Cuba Meets China

    We attended a moving and playful literary summit between two great novelists from Cuba and China, who met for the first time on stage. Watch Yan Lianke and Leonardo Padura discuss their views and perception of each other’s socialist countries.

  • Sjón

    Let the Reader do the Work

    “When you start as a poet it makes you aware of how few words are needed to bring ideas from one mind to another.” Icelandic writer Sjón is a word-minimalist. Watch him explain why he gives his readers a minimum of words to work from.

  • Philipp Meyer

    Art is an Animal Inside Me

    Acclaimed American novelist Philipp Meyer has had many failed attempts at writing, but feels lucky that he got to discover his literary voice in private. He here shares why he writes and what keeps him going: “It’s an animal drive to write or make art.”

  • Joachim Koester

    A Dark Sea of Awareness

    Danish artist Joachim Koester discusses his acclaimed black-and-white film from 2009, which wordlessly investigates the legendary American author Carlos Castaneda’s idea that a certain set of exercises can help us “navigate the dark sea of awareness.”

  • Margaret Atwood

    The Woods Inside Me

    “I was carried into the woods in a packsack when I was six months old.” Canadian Man Booker Prize winning author Margaret Atwood here describes her special relationship to the woods, and her first overwhelming meeting with the city.

  • Sammy Baloji

    The Past in Front of Us

    Through his intriguing and poignant pictures, Congolese artist and photographer Sammy Baloji confronts the Western portrayal of his country by linking old photographs from Belgian colonial times with contemporary ones. The result is captivating.

  • COBE

    Monuments of the Future

    Dan Stubbergaard, founder of the internationally praised COBE Architects, takes us around his hometown Copenhagen in Denmark to show and discuss what motivates their exciting socially conscious and highly innovative projects.

  • Christien Meindertsma

    The Illusion of Safety

    Does increased security make you feel safer? Cool Dutch designer and artist Christien Meindertsma investigates this issue in her compelling art book ’Checked Baggage’, which comprises a week’s worth of objects confiscated in Schiphol Airport after 9/11.