Arabic artist, Bahia Shebab, first discovered the power of “NO” when she was invited as an artist to participate in an exhibition in Munich celebrating 100 years of Islamic art in Europe. The curator would accept her work on one condition, that she use the Arabic script in all her artwork. As an artist, a woman, and a human being living in the 21st century, Shebab had only one thing to say in response to this patronizer: NO! As she explains, in Arabic, to say “No” is also to say, emphatically, “a thousand times No!!”
Finding inspiration within this challenge, Shebab sought out 1000 different “No!”s on everything ever produced in the last 1400 years under Islamic/Arabic patronage from Spain to China. She collected her findings in a book, which she placed on a shelf next to a 3x7 meter installation of her work in Munich, Germany in September 2012.
But the events of early 2011 forced her to bring her art off the page and into the streets. In January 2011, the revolution started and suddenly, she had much more to protest besides this controlling patron. Shortly after, on February 12, she and others naively celebrated in Cairo believing that the revolution had succeeded. Months later she found herself spraying “NO!” in Tahrir square – ‘No!’ – that she will not live in a city where people were being killed and treated like garbage; ‘No!’ to military rule; ‘No!’ to a new pharaoh because whoever comes next should understand that they will not be ruled over another dictator, ‘No!’ to violence, ‘No!’ to blinding heroes, ‘No!’ to killing, ‘No!’ to burning books, ‘No!’ to stripping/shaming the people, ‘No!’ to barrier walls...and her final statement on a large concrete wall in Cairo: “you can cross the flowers but you can't erase brick.”
Artists like this prove that art for art's sake is over, impotent, and self-serving – and that as human beings in this day and age we must all bring our art to life, shout our ‘No!”s in the street, and find inspiration within the struggle as Bahia Shebab does.