A woman, her head veiled by a traditional hijab, her hand – scrawled with Arabic quotes – covers her eyes in a gesture which speaks more of ‘see no evil’ than playful peek-a-boo. But this discomforting image belongs to no photograph nor frame: it’s spray-painted onto a wall in Jordan.
The piece is painted by Laila Ajiawi, a 24-year-old Jordanian artist who is one of 25 participants in Women on Walls, the feminist street art movement that’s taking Egypt, and now Jordan, by storm.
This week, artists from the world over have been getting paint-splattered and sprayed as they fulfil their mandate of filling the city’s walls with images of women that will provoke conversation about women among their viewers.
The brainchild of Swedish photographer Mia Grondahl, Women on Walls began in Egypt in 2011, sparked by the ousting of then-President, Hosni Mubarak. Documenting the region’s street art, Grondahl was distressed by the predominance of males who constituted the visuals’ content and creators: of 17 000 pieces, only 253 featured women.
Since its inaugural event in 2012, Women on Walls has accreted over 60 dedicated street, graffiti and visual artists who today walk the streets of Egypt and Jordan, painting pictures of women that distress, delight or simply prompt discussion: pictures of women that provoke thought.
In another piece created this week, Ajjawi’s puts paint to plaster to create a larger-than-life female form. Her head, spouting a light bulb, a speech bubble, a rainbow, and a flying dove leaving an open cage, the artist describes as “a message to guys in general”.
“Guys look at girls as objects. The media shows the girls as objects,” she explains.
This years theme, “From Fear to Freedom”, has sparked some of the greatest creative flames yet seen in the campaign. And, in a country renowned for its oppressive patriarchy, where an estimated 80% of women experience street harassment, according to a study by the Nation, (the number in Egypt sits at an appalling 99.3%!), this evocative art could not have found a more unlikely, but better, home.