The Artist of a Revolution: A Visit from Mohamad Abla

 

BY JOE LYONS

 

Despite what the news cameras may show us, it is important to remember that many revolutions are not reserved to the military.

In Egypt, for example, ordinary citizens filled the streets of Tahrir Square to protest the governments of Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak in 2011 and again in July 2013 to oust President Mohamed Morsi. The cry of “bread, freedom and social justice” was uttered by millions, and when a new constitution was written later in the year, people from all walks of life were invited to be a part of it.

One group, not usually thought to be included in political situations such as these, is the artists. Among the most prominent was Mohamad Abla. Last week, students in Professor Robert Kramer’s class “Issues in the Contemporary Middle East”were lucky enough to listen to this revolutionary speaker, view his work and have a discussion about the revolutions and the future of Egypt. Over a week long period, he gave several talks at St. Norbert and UW Green Bay, both in art classes and history classes. He even hosted a pot luck dinner at the house of a UW Green Bay professor on Saturday.

Abla is a painter from Cairo, whose work has spanned several decades. His work deals a lot with families and the people of Cairo, but in recent years has moved to include several revolutionary ideas. These include pictures of political leaders, the military and police, and representations of the American influence in Egypt. He even showed a painting of one of his friends who was killed by the police right in front of him. Abla became heavily involved in the revolution when his home was threatened.

For over a dozen years, he has lived on an island in the Nile within the city limits of Cairo. The government wanted to take his land, as well as the other inhabitants of the island’s land, for public use. Abla and his neighbors resisted the government’s forces and maintained ownership of the island. From that point forward, he was a noticeable face of the rebellions that ousted President Mubarak, as well as being a familiar face to the Muslim Brotherhood who backed President Morsi. In the discussion segment of the class we discussed issues ranging from America’s future involvement in the region to hope for a brighter Egypt and his own experiences in the uprisings. He had several interesting insights to the situations in his country and definitely added a lot to the class’s understanding of the revolution.

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