Amr Diwan and The Culture of Graffiti in Egypt
We sit down with famed graffiti artist Amr Diwan (also known as DONE), to talk expression through art, the process of creation, and his upcoming show with streetwear giant Vans in Marassi's Martin's Beach Club.
They say words are mightier than swords, and they say if you pour your heart out in your word, the world would soon change, but they also say a picture is worth a thousand words, which is what Amr Diwan (also known as DONE) leans more towards. Speaking one's mind in Egypt is often mistaken for anarchy and even sedition at times, even if the process results in stunning moving graffiti pieces adorning our otherwise unsightly streets by bringing out its humanity and inner beauty.
The 25-year-old has painted some of the country's best and most illustrious pieces of graffiti to date, and he is known for his elaborate calligraffiti – the technique is ornate, but the message is straightforward.
It's only a matter of hours before this joy is Martin's Beach Club's, where the famed graffiti artist will be lending his talents to streetwear giant Vans as he gives Marassi's posh denizens the rare opportunity to enjoy some street art. Together with the crowd as well as four assistants - each artists in their own right - Diwan will create a monument to Vans' signature style, giving the skater brand it's very own piece of graffiti. It's going to be messy, it's going to be street, and it's going to be off the wall!
How did you become a graffiti artist?
At first I was in the rap scene and graffiti is a big element of hip-hop culture. I had this tremendous interest in hip-hop as a culture, but I wasn’t a very good rapper, so I turned to something that I’m actually good at, which was painting in general, which later translated to graffiti.
Did you participate in the graffiti craze that swept the nation during the revolution and following the January 25th uprising?
Yes, but I’m from Alexandria, so I create revolutionary-themed graffiti in Alexandria, but not much – I believe that graffiti is an art form, it shouldn’t be politicised, it is about expression.
What do you think your installation in Martin’s Beach Club will be like?
I expect to see people happy to watch graffiti being made, while actively participating in its creation. I’m always looking forward to see them surprised by the final results, because the process can be very messy – first, it looks like incoherent bits and pieces scattered all over the wall, and it looks like scribbling, but eventually it’s just beautiful. I can’t wait to see people experience it and try something new.
Have you ever done this before? Create a graffiti from scratch with people?
Yes, I did it with children in Luxor with the Elisa Sednaoui foundation, I participated in another event with Save the Children, I did a graffiti show for the UNAID. I also participated in a graffiti festival in France called 100% Hip Hop and another one in Cyprus called iVolunteer to advocate volunteer rights, that too was organized by the UN.
How did you get into graffiti in Egypt when there is so little of it going on here outside the political sphere?
At first, it was really hard because the equipment and the tools weren’t available and there was zero knowledge about it, so I would just try to create and make up for that myself. I would look at other graffiti artists’ work and feel small in comparison so I just had to work on myself and develop to the reach the point I’ve come to now.
How did you learn the art of graffiti?
I taught myself, I attended workshops, but most importantly, I learned how to create my own style from design on paper to the actual thing on walls. People need to understand that graffiti is a revolutionary art in its very nature, that’s why I founded Graffaholic which is a cultural center aiming to edify people about the art form. We hold festivals, graffiti battles, we support graffiti artists; we try and help create this movement to take it to the next level. We want people to see that it is not vandalism and I think we have succeeded, we have helped dissociate graffiti from the revolution and from the political stigma, if you will.
Do you know what you want to do in Martin’s Beach Club this weekend? Do you already have an idea of what you are going to do, or will you just come up with it on the spot and let the crowd and the atmosphere inspire you?
I haven’t decided yet, but I do have plenty of ideas of what to do, but we will be flushing them out some more with the Vans team, and brainstorming what the message and what the writing on the wall – literally – is going to be.
Did you go to art school?
No, I studied architecture, which is more of a design branch of art and it’s more mathematical, really.
Who’s your favourite graffiti artist?
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