- Tuesday, 20 December 2016
The Egyptian artist’s latest work is a graphic novel set nearly 1000 years after an environmental disaster.
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Many have recognized Ganzeer a street artist after he became popular during the 2011 Egyptian uprising for an antimilitarist mural he drew in central Cairo featuring a massive tank facing a lonely cyclist. He was also simultaneously posting graphics on the web for anyone to use, thus encouraging activists to follow his steps.
In recent years, Ganzeer (b. 1982) has developed a multifaceted body of work at the crossroads of several media: video, (mural) painting, digital and print publications (www.ganzeer.com). The artist - working under a pseudonym meaning ‘bicycle chain’ in Egyptian dialect – also runs a newsletter called Restricted Frequency, that is a (often weekly) personal account of his daylife travelling around the globe in which he publishes catchy ‘visual commentaries’ and personal essays.
His latest work is titled The Solar Grid, a dystopian sci-fi graphic novel in nine chapters appearing on an irregular basis on its own dedicated website (http://thesolargrid.net). Set in 949 after a flood of biblical proportions, the plot follows the story of a young boy and a girl, Kameen and Mehmet, scraping out a living in a city (Cairo) which the environmental catastrophe made bask in eternal daylight. The clean water is confined to a network of towers owned by a corrupted rich man.
In 2014 Ganzeer moved to the United States and he now lives in Los Angeles. But it was in Cairo that back in the second half of 2000 he opened his first studio. As a young artist-designer engaged in workshops and exhibitions in Cairo, as well as in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland, he learned how important it was not only to make a living, but a difference. Ganzeer belongs to a generation of artists working to effect social and political change using creative and alternative means of expression. In the wake of a collaborative social media satirical art series launched in 2014, in particular, this practice caused him harsh accusations from the Egyptian authorities and from some media.
The Solar Grid is a black and white comic investigating and discussing the relationship between mankind and environment and the impact on a (metamorphic) Earth. “My first thoughts were not science fiction, but rather a work of fiction about two kids from Cairo’s Zabaleen (garbage people, ndr) neighborhood plotting to destroy the Aswan High Dam - he says in an interview conducted via email - The idea morphed over time to become something more universal, with a diverse set of characters from different parts of the world.” Eventually, Ganzeer decided that the story had to take place between Earth, the Moon and Mars, where part of the Earth’s population had resettled in the wake of the flood.
“On one hand, the way we have been abusing this planet as a species really breaks my heart. On the other hand, I am fully aware that the lifestyle I choose to lead is only possible because of such abuse … So I guess this weird sci-fi graphic novel is my demented way of trying to resolve this conundrum,” he says in the same interview.
So far, only three episodes of The Solar Grid have been released on the web. Within its pages, some social, political and technological trends perceived in the present are brought to negative extremes too. On future chapters, the Martian society becomes a direct democracy where there is no president nor parliament. Newer forms of government rose, utilizing the help of newer technologies. The system he developed for Mars “was to a large degree inspired by Yelp, wherein users rate restaurants. The problem with that though, is that users will typically only go to restaurants that are already highly rated, which means their decisions are readily influenced by everyone else’s opinions. Applying the same approach to governing policies on a planetary scale can have its own detrimental effects.”
Ganzeer decided to release The Solar Grid in a PDF format that can be read on computer and iPad. “I guess because it is the method I have at my disposal. If I was doing this in the 80’s, I’d definitely be self-publishing and self-distributing it in paper form. Doing it completely independently in digital format through its own dedicated website has afforded me full control over content, presentation, and scheduling - he explains - … That being said, the end goal is for the entire thing, once complete, to be gathered in a quality book.”
This is not the first book graphically illustrated by Ganzeer. In 2015 he was awarded the Mahmoud Kahil Award in Beirut for the short novel called The Apartment in Bab el-Louk, a sophisticated combination of text (Donia Maher) and graphic storytelling (Ganzeer and Ahmad Nady). Over the last few years he has also exhibited his colorful screen prints and acrylics and video installations in galleries worldwide. In January 2015 his first US solo show openedat the New York’s Leila Hellen Gallery with the title All American.
Ganzeer likes to stress he is a longtime comics fan. “My brother had a lot of 70’s and 80’s superhero comics from the time that we lived in the States as children. So I read and re-read those a lot ... I also found lots of superhero comics at Cairo’s used book market (Azbakeya), but again, never a complete series. Towards my mid-late teens however, the internet had taken form and Amazon.com was born and so it became easier to order books from abroad.”
In December Ganzeer published a short autobiographical comic for TheNib.com, a website for political cartoons and non-fiction comics. It is called Selective Myopia: When Nobody Wants the Truth. He is also writing, illustrating and designing a fictitious newspaper for an exhibition in Germany called MAGIC CITY, which also features one of his installations.