“If painting a panda on the walls of Egypt will change the history of art then that would be very sad”
As the instantly recognizable graffiti of a Sad Panda spanned the walls of Heliopolis and Zamalek through the past year everyone was asking who’s behind it? Why did they paint it? What’s the message? And why does the artist remain anonymous? On the face of it, as a society, we seem to be a new audience for graffiti art, not just for the people but also artists hadn’t had the chance to practice their passion until the regime was toppled and police vanished from the streets. As artists are forced to do it in the dark, hiding from the police, they all remain anonymous. We stalked Sad Panda until we managed to hunt him down for an interview and he agreed on the spot so we didn’t need to blackmail him or anything.
Graffiti, especially in Egypt is regarded as a new form of art. In most countries, Graffiti is illegal, and is sometimes viewed as vandalism. “I started to be a graffiti artist in 2009 and before the revolution things were more difficult. We used to paint graffiti but not that much. It didn’t last a lot on walls. They instantly get erased” he tells us, “after the revolution police became much less active so our work lasts longer now”.
Given the fact that our society is constantly curious connecting the face to the work, everyone was mainly asking about the man behind the Panda “I paint a sad panda on the walls, that’s all I do but who paints it doesn’t really matter. My real identity isn’t what’s important here and it isn’t about who does what. Unfortunately, most local magazines and newspapers sell their product through celebrity interviews about the private lives of these people and not about their art. The talk is always about who got married and who took somebody to court. We don’t have that many artists, they’re like 5 or 10 and we keep on talking about them for ages. They know that people are interested in this so they tend to get married and divorced a lot to make people talk about them” he says. Graffiti became an issue of hard sell and most publications in Egypt had cover stories about this underground art that finally came to light, “Aya Tarek the Alexandrian Graffiti artist who appeared in ‘Microphone’ and other artists like her started painting ages ago before the revolution and no one was ever interested. Now everyone is surprisingly interested I don’t know why. Our main problem in Egypt is that people tend to think that they’re the first to do a certain thing and they tend to believe that no one in the world ever did it before them. No one wants to play by the rules, for example the artistic subject of Picasso’s Guernica didn’t show dead people with blood although it talked about war. He thought completely out of the box”, he explains.
Most of this artist’s work is a painting of a Sad Panda and some is a variety of paintings signed by the Panda. What the Sad Panda wants to say stayed mysterious for a while so we asked the artist about the message behind his art that has been the talk of the town for a while now and he told us that there is absolutely no message in his work.“I wanted to prove that people make a certain meaning out of everything and lots of things don’t have an actual meaning in the first place. It’s the same thing with colors, Black is a sad color, Red is the color of love and blood at the same time, and how does that work? What I tried to do is to make something that has no meaning between everything that has a meaning. People could create a meaning out of a blank paper”, he adds. Art is a very subjective form of expression and Sad Panda realizes this fact very well “I don’t see what I do as art at all. It’s like when someone goes to eat out at a restaurant and he scratches his table with a pencil to come up with a little drawing”, we hear “art is something that is extremely personal. That’s the difference between art and advertising. Someone might be a graphic designer who designs for non commercial purpose, another one might be a graphic designer for commercial purposes such as advertising, he’s selling a product at the end so its not personal work anymore. Once you started thinking what other people will think of your art, your work won’t become art; it’ll become an advert. Art can’t be very direct, you can’t paint a graffiti telling people to go down for a protest, it won’t be art it’ll be an announcement”.
We learned from the artist that at the end of this year, he’ll bring the Sad Panda Graffiti to an end, “I’ll kill it and paint blood all over the Sad Panda paintings. There is a really funny story, when I once told a journalist about this she told me that it won’t be a good idea to kill it as artists like me are changing the history of the art scene in Egypt. If painting a panda on the walls of Egypt will change the history of art that would be very sad”.
What the artist is Sad about:
“I don’t believe in happiness, it’s not there. It’s part of a great lie, they tell you when you do that you’ll be happy “that” is not available. Like when you’re cold, you wear something to make you warmer that doesn’t mean you’re totally happy it’s still cold out there nothing has changed”
“I’m not literally living in Egypt, I live in my room most of the time. It’s difficult for me to mingle with people; things became very sad out there. I deal with people only when I must”
“What’s with the social media craze? I never understood that. When they said that on the 26th of September the world will end, I said great we will finally get to rest but when I found people updating their Facebook statuses saying that they’re expecting for the world to end, I wondered how do you guys manage to update your statuses if the world is really ending? If the world will end tomorrow, get out do what you want, kill someone maybe but don’t sit and update your status!”
“A group of musicians could call themselves ‘underground band’ not because they want to be an underground band but because they didn’t get a chance to become commercial. The minute they sign a record label they don’t become underground anymore”
“They told us in order to be a respectable person you have to have money, well lots of money. The idea of bank accounts is very sad. They taught us that Batoot is a failure who doesn’t have money and can’t get married. On the other hand A’am Dahab is a much better person because he has lots of money. In my opinion, Batoot should be better than A’am Dahab because he took care of his nieces”