Printer Friendly

Graffiti as a communication medium during the Arab spring.

During the Arab spring, graffiti has served as one of the most essential mass communications media due to its ability to effectively convey relatable, but unique, political ideas. Graffiti art is a singularly performed art that leads the public to question their perception of the cliched truth transmitted through official media. Moreover, the touchable nature of street art makes it keener to the audience than all other types of media. This leads graffiti to be the creator of a new "unpublicized" space in the public streets and delivering new ideas to people.

Why Did Graffiti Replace All the Other Media of Mass Communication during the Arab Spring?

There have been many reasons behind the domination of graffiti over all the other types of media during the Arab spring. Graffiti often accompanies rebellious acts. It usually triggers government-related media to communicate the truth to the audience and educate the people about the current social and political practices of the country. As a self-censored type of media, street art is an effective means of incorporating peoples' perceptions in both social and political ideas.

Street art is a method of activating the street, even under oppressive authoritarian systems. It also provides democratic universal access to the social producer of the messages (Gleaton, 2012, p. 25). Art and revolution have always comingled. Graffiti is basically a mechanism to stimulate people into action (Korody, 2011, p. 5). As the regime always feared ethical media, photographers were imprisoned and were prevented from publicizing their work. But the overpowering was in vain since the imagery was already communicated through social media and was represented through street art (Tripp, 2013, p. 4). Essentially, the anonymity of the movement of street art is necessary for its success since it is an illegal act. This makes it ungoverned and uncensored. It also sheds art from all its self-entities, which emphasizes the fact that it's for everyone (Korody, 2011, p. 34). The nature of street art can be counted as a media of mass communication for it reflects social problems of people who can't communicate that (Gleaton, 2012, p. 16).

Moreover, Graffiti modifies an image of reality transformed by media. It shows things that the official media never say (de Ruiter, 2012, p. 14). Not only is graffiti a spark for the official media to share the truth, it also serves as a main initiative for raising political awareness. Lyman Chaffee states in his book, Political Protest and Street Art, that graffiti is the best exemplifier of communication through "governments, organizations, and individuals" to represent their ideas, beliefs, needs, and demands (Gleaton, 2012, p. 16). Tahrir's graffiti raised the political awareness and triggered the state media to film the news (Abaza, 2013, p. 125). Graffiti messages are too loud to be ignored (Gleaton, 2012, p. 1). It is also a good counter medium to the official media during their misrepresentations of events throughout the revolution (de Ruiter, 2012, p. 22).

Graffiti writing is a prehistoric human communication technique. It always communicates cultural practices. It teaches more than what the traditional education does (Christen, Sandlin, Schultz, & Burdick, 2010, p. 16). More specifically, street art is basically the ruler of itself, just like the successful media systems (Tripp, 2013, p. 3). Being the "ruler of itself," graffiti art is able to indulge the audience in the actual perception of the ideas more than any other form of media. Street art is a visual communicating medium of the movement of the people. It's a very basic annotation of the freedom of speech that developed after the revolutionary acts in Egypt. It integrates the self-conscious perceptions of the audience themselves (de Ruiter, 2012, p. 11).

The Effect of the Tangible Medium of Graffiti on Its Success in Mass Communication

There are diverse audiences for different types of media of mass communication. Compared to other forms of media and art, graffiti's tangible medium makes the events communicated seem more familiar to the people. Also, the visual appeal of graffiti serves as a great attraction method to the people. In addition to all the varied characteristics that promote the success of graffiti as a mass communicator, its free availability to everyone from all social classes makes it the most indiscriminative type of media.

Through the symbolic nature of the graffiti art and sculptural projections presented in the streets, two main aspects are represented: first, the frankness of the rulers of the space (revolutionists) and, secondly, the expression of the truest version of the truth since it comes right from the source (Tripp, 2013, p. 1). One reason behind the success of graffiti as a communication medium is its tangible material (de Ruiter, 2012, p. 2). The tangible medium of graffiti art reflected the intimacy of the people to this form of media, which added more to its forthrightness. The speed at which the walls were whitened and repainted again raised the job for many journalists to photograph and follow the latest graffiti in the city (Abaza, 2013, p. 133).

Continuing, the visual appeal of street art and the way in which the narratives are located creates a form of a familiar habitat for the social reality of the people. Graffiti is considered an interstitial practice. It can neither be identified as criminal law as a vandalism crime, nor as a purely aesthetic work (Brighenti, 2010). It means that, essentially, everyone who writes on the walls of Tunisia are aware of the other artists. The walls are essentially documenting urban art and revealing facts and narratives of flourishing movements (Korody, 2011, p. 11). The visual appeal was also the reason why "street" art was more critical--because the social media and blogs are still restrained by the virtual world. Streets still represent the "modern urban theater" (de Ruiter, 2012, p. 28). The appeal of street art to the people helps in the changing of the social reality in the audience's perception, along with its contentious performance and update. It also frames the issue in a way that allows the audience to fully grasp the truth from its producers (de Ruiter, 2012, p. 6).

Furthermore, street art is one of the most indiscriminative types of mass communication; it communicates with people who might not have the freedom to access any other type of media. El Zeft said that graffiti does not only communicate with a larger audience, it also communicates with different audiences than the ones who have the liberty to connect to the social media (de Ruiter, 2012, p. 29). Also, the usage of graffiti, as a medium, is a more appropriate medium than social media to communicate the ideas about the revolution because of the very low educational level of the Egyptian people (de Ruiter, 2012, p. 29). Ferrell sees graffiti as a form of diverse social reform (Lindsey, 2012). Artists choose graffiti as their medium of self-expression, other than social media, because it helps mobilize the people in the streets, and it particularly connects everyone--not just the social media users (de Ruiter, 2012, p. 44). Street art has been the background noise of the "disaffected" people whose condition is getting worse due to the revolution (Kimball, 2013).

The Intended Role of Graffiti and the Implications of Its Arousal during the Arab Spring

Throughout the revolutions, graffiti artists are considered to be the actual documenters of it. The role of graffiti is much more than framing certain ideas to the public; it is more of communicating thoughts through art around the globe. It basically makes a private theater of the public streets for anyone who wants to join. Retrieving the space, graffiti is the main drive behind changing the perception of the people and providing them with new ideas.

Graffiti, just like any other medium of mass communication, challenges the political system through "envisioning competing futures, inscribing memory and critically commenting on political events" (de Ruiter, 2012, p. 4). Graffiti provides media-framing devices "that guide the representation of occurrences in social life and thereby seek to influence the perception of other people of social reality" (de Ruiter, 2012, p. 20). Graffiti is considered, by researchers, a primary object of analysis (Kramer, 2010). It communicates the existence of like-minded citizens (Tripp, 2013, p. 10). Graffiti and visual images are communications media of camaraderie, solidarity, and rebelliousness. Graffiti still, as its initial appearance, marks territory and communicates likelihood of ideas both nationally and internationally. It has also been written in different languages to serve as an international communicator of the present events (Tripp, 2013, p. 9-10).

The new public culture has formulated communication through public space. Graffiti converts public spaces into the biggest media screen. It leaves nothing "public" in the public spaces (Abaza, 2013, p. 125). Street art also served as a form of an ongoing dialogue (Abaza, 2013, p. 132). "We are unaware that the city walls are alive with its social drama;" so is the media. It basically manages to communicate the social relevance and serves as a stimulus for political change (Gleaton, 2012, p. 3). This makes the revolutionary art a celebration of the "Republic of Tahrir" (Lindsey, 2012).

Graffiti serves as a "stylish counterpunch" to authority (Kramer, 2010). The way in which graffiti recoups the public space doesn't only change the current perceptions, it also predicts and hopes for alternative futures. For instance, the wall painted by the Egyptian graffiti artist El Zeft shows a competing future for Egypt in which kids can play while protestors protest against the government (de Ruiter, 2012, p. 23). Street art served as the right to use the people's individual liberty of transforming the inevitable exercises of capitalist rights to a collective power of reshaping the country through street art media. By recouping the physical environment through visual street art, artists are able to communicate their new political views internationally and to the authoritarian regime (Korody, 2011, p. 12-17). Graffiti's character of inscription in the memory is one of its most important characters. Through the portraits of the martyrs, graffiti is able to communicate the idea of the continuing revolution; this idea is provoked by the remembrance of the violence that took place during the revolution (de Ruiter, 2012, p. 23).

Hassnaa K. Hassan

Indiana University of Pennsylvania


Abaza, M. (2013). Walls, segregating downtown Cairo and the Mohammed Mahmud street graffiti. Theory, Culture & Society, 30(1), 122-139.

Brighenti, A. M. (2010). At the wall: Graffiti writers, urban territoriality, and the public domain. Space and Culture, 13(3), 315-332.

Christen, R. S., Sandlin, J., Schultz, B., & Burdick, J. (2010). Graffiti as a public educator of urban teenagers. Handbook of Public Pedagogy: Education and Learning beyond Schooling, 233-243.

Gleaton, K. M. (2012). Power to the people: Street art as an agency for change. (Master's thesis). Retrieved from

Halverson, J. R., Ruston, S. W., & Trethewey, A. (2013). Mediated martyrs of the Arab spring: New media, civil religion, and narrative in Tunisia and Egypt. Journal of Communication, 63(2), 221-412.

Kimball, S. R. (2013). Rapping the Arab spring. World Policy Journal, 30(4), 79-86.

Korody, N. (2011). The revolutionary art: Street art before and after the Tunisian revolution. (Collection)

Kramer, R. (2010). Painting with permission: Legal graffiti in New York City. Ethnography, 11(2), 235-253.

Lewisohn, C. (2008). Street art: The graffiti revolution. Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing.

Lindsey, U. (2012). Art in Egypt's revolutionary square. Middle East Report Online.

Rabie, E. (2013). The graffito effect. Retrieved from

Ruiter, A. D. de (2012). Imaging Egypt's political transition in (post-) revolutionary street art. Faculty of humanities thesis. (Master's thesis). Utrecht University, Cairo, Egypt

Tripp, C. (2013). Art of the uprisings in the Middle East. Brown Journal of World Affairs, 19(2), 185-199.

Young, A. (2012). Criminal images: The affective judgment of graffiti and street art. Crime, Media, Culture, 8(3), 297-314.

Zakareviciute, I., Ciubrinskas, V., Klumbyte, N., Schroeder, I., Sliavaite, K., Rusinskaite, E., & Dauksas, D. (2013). Imaging woman in the streets of Cairo. Analyses of Cairo graffiti. Vytauto Didziojo Universitetas.
COPYRIGHT 2014 Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Department of Communications Media
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Hassan, Hassnaa K.
Publication:The Proceedings of the Laurel Highlands Communications Conference
Date:Jan 1, 2014
Previous Article:Emotional outbursts and gender in reality TV.
Next Article:The new pornographers: hate speech reaches primetime television.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters