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Egyptian revolutionary artist to visit Cedar Rapids


Lecture: Concept Pop, Or Invisible Elephants and the Flies that Bug Them

National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library — Thursday, June 6 at 7 p.m.

Crash Course in Street Art and Protest Art Workshop with Ganzeer

National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Cedar Rapids — Friday-Saturday, June 7-8

The Revolution Starts in the Streets exhibit runs through Nov. 9. — courtesy of the NCSML

It was only by chance that Ganzeer found himself with spray paint in his bag, standing in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Jan. 25, 2011. He had no idea this would become the date that history would later pinpoint as the start of the Egyptian Revolution.

Talking with an excited Ganzeer via phone conference, he explained that he wasn’t intending to take part in this movement, but once he felt the power of the people chanting as one around him, he was inspired to express his oppression — by means of the freehand spray-painted phrase translated “Down with Mubarak.”

At the time, Ganzeer explained, he only wanted to leave a mark that would last. The media coverage was telling the public that these protesters were “nomads, punks and paid protesters from foreign interest groups,” he said. That meant the battle was not only against the government, but the media and their message. He wanted to make sure that people would remember this moment: remember that something happened in this place that was significant.

As time went on and the revolution gained steam, he found himself drawn away from the square, but still creating his work to keep the message of the revolution alive and spreading. He found that this also sent his message out to a different audience than those of the voices chanting in the square.

“People were very prone to believe the media,” Ganzeer explained. He wanted to give the protesters the best voice possible, away from condemnation.

Egyptian street artist Ganzeer visits Cedar Rapids this weekend. — courtesy of the NCSML

In the years that followed his initial involvement, he said, “I made contacts and we would feed off of one another’s work … everything was happening very organically.” During 2011-2012, the culture and the art being created in Egypt was “accidental energetic, unplanned, awesome and inspired,” Ganzeer said.

Ganzeer’s story makes him a perfect first choice to engage with the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (NCSML) reproduction of the Berlin Wall. The wall was built by Metro High School students as a project-based learning initiative in their Metro STEAM Academy over the course of this spring. The structure is to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Created as part of the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I, Czechoslovakia (made up of what are now the Czech Republic and Slovakia until those two halves peacefully separated in 1993) survived the chaotic period between the two world wars, Nazi domination during the World War II, and being reduced to a satellite of the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Like its neighbor East Germany, it had a communist government imposed on it by the USSR.

Ganzeer at work. — courtesy of the NCSML

Decades of Soviet-backed repression were dramatically challenged during the Prague Spring, an eight-month period of liberalization in 1968, which ended when the USSR invaded to install a more obedient government. Twenty years later, in November 1989, a protest by students in Prague grew into the “Velvet Revolution,” which led to a collapse of the communist government. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution both powerfully represent the fall of communism and the rising of the people.

Sarah Henderson, a K-12 education and art specialist from NCSML, explains they are intending to “honor peaceful revolution and express what it means to be free.”

“The core message we are working towards is that we want to show gratitude that we have living in the U.S. with freedom of expression,” Henderson said.

The exhibition, Revolution Starts in the Streets, opened April 27 and will close Nov. 9. During the run of the exhibition, NCSML will offer workshops and work by five artists in addition to Ganzeer. Upcoming artists will be announced starting this month; you can check out the exhibition artist line-up as it becomes available at www.ncsml.org.

One side of the wall will feature work by the chosen artists, while the other will be open for the public to come and make their marks during set hours. Materials are provided at no cost by the NCSML.

Some of Ganzeer’s other work. — courtesy of the NCSML

Ganzeer will give a lecture Thursday night, June 6, starting at 7 p.m. at NCSML. It is free and open to the public. The artist will discuss his organic creative process and “Concept Pop,” his personal style of art.

This Friday and Saturday, June 7 and 8, Ganzeer will lead a Crash Course in Street Art and Protest Art workshop. Students will be able to put their new skills to work on the second day of the workshop. It runs from 5–8 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m.–1 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are $50 for the general public, $20 for students. Pricing is also offered on a sliding scale if you are in need of a lesser fee.

Ganzeer is “looking forward to encouraging students to only create art [for] protest about something they really, truly care about as an individual,” he said. He’s excited to meet students and “help them to realize their visions through street art.”

“Start small scale, evaluate your immediate surroundings and begin to challenge those by any artistic means available,” Ganzeer said. “Each artist must really truly care about each issue, what matters, what we care about the most.” As he jokes, but with a note of seriousness, “No one is born thinking they need a big car.”

“Be open with dealing with the culture at large; don’t get caught up in policy,” Ganzeer said. “Change the culture at large first.”


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