If you take an interest in the street art scene in the Arab world, you surely must have heard about Ganzeer. The Guardian has described him as a major player in an emerging “counter culture art scene”, Al Monitor has placed him on a list of 50 people “shaping the culture of the Middle East” and last May the Huffington Post put him on its list of global street artists “shaking up public art”. Last but not least, this month he made the front page of The New York Times Arts & Leisure supplement. At 32 years old, this is a pretty impressive résumé for any budding artist…
Your artist name is “Ganzeer”, which means “chain”, how did you pick it?
This was originally the name of a design studio I had set up back in 2005. Although I would have other designers working with me from time to time, it was only just me in this studio, so clients and other people just started to refer to me directly as Ganzeer. And the name sort of caught on and stuck. When I decided to shut down the studio and focus entirely on art-making, I kept the name because it was the one most people knew me by. Why I had picked it for my design studio in the first place is because I thought it was a good metaphor for the role of a designer in society. You see, a ganzeer is typically used to refer to a bicycle chain. Not the chain that locks the bicycle. But the chain that keeps the wheels in motion when pedaling. In a way, that’s what a designer does; we connect ideas.
We are all the protagonists of our own lives. Everything we do is in the first person. But how many of us are active participants in these lives of ours? I think it’s fair to say that most of us don’t really do much other than look out the window. We let the world around us write our scripts for us rather than the other way around.
A relatively established artist friend of mine once advised me to stop making work about the Egyptian revolution, stating that it is way too early for that kind of work, that we need to wait forty years before being able to do this sort of work. This to me signifies the mindset of your typical window gazer; someone who spends their life watching and commenting rather than participating. In terms of art, it signifies art that delivers commentary from a safe distance, as opposed to the kind of art that is very participatory. Not in the sense of the audience participating in the creation of the art, but rather art that participates in dealing with the immediate struggles and concerns of the audience.
An excerpt from Concept Pop, written by Ganzeer for the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, in which I cite the work of Huda Lutfi, Hany Rashed, Ahmed Hefnawy, and Mahmoud Khaled. Read the entire article here.