Mawan Shahin: The Artist Who Helped Inspire The Egyptian Revolution.
Marwan Shahin, is a visual artist from Egypt. He's been living and working in Los Angeles for almost a year now. His work started to garner attention when he created a mural of his infamous "The 2Vth (The Anonymous Pharaoh)” piece In Alexandria, Egypt, in 2011 during the Egyptian uprising. His mural was celebrated by the protesters, the press, the street and the art world. It was considered an iconic representation of the Egyptian Revolution, it was chosen to be on the cover of the critically acclaimed “Walls of Freedom” book. He also featured on The New York Times and The Huffington post just to name a few. Which Resulted in his art being shown all over the globe, he would go on to collaborate with great talents and genius producers that would help him conceptualize his vision to come to life. He created album covers for some of the biggest names in the music industry and got the attention of his peers & idols, such as, Shepard Fairey, Takashi Murakami & Cleon Peterson.
-How was it growing up as an artist in Egypt? Growing up as an artist in Egypt wasn't ideal honestly, since the very begining, I was always met with resistance from my teachers, family and loved ones. The idea of making money through art was never a realistic concept to Egyptian people, so they've always managed to shoot down that dream whenever it was expressed. Instead, I was always encouraged to get a regular job that would provide a steady paycheck. I took this as personal motivation to actually go for that dream and prove everybody wrong, and it worked.
-How did you get into making art and which artists inspired you? I'm a self taught artist, I've always been drawing since a very young age, I think around age 3 or 4. I started out by doodling and sketching which then grew into drawing; I was notorious for doodling in class. I moved my focus to graphic design and digital art by the time I attended art school. So I studied Visual Communication at The Faculty of Fine Arts in Alexandria University. At some point before I graduated, I was tired of the commercial and consumerism ideologies that came along with studying graphic design, so I wanted to shift my focus, new skills and knowledge back into creating art again, professionally this time. I was always inspired by the art giants like Shepard Fairey, Roy Liechtenstein, Cleon Peterson, Takashi Murakami, Damien Hirst, Banksy, Dali, Daniel Arsham, Sorayama, Ron English and Robt Williams. I've always wanted to create art on that same scale.
-Can you tell us the story behind going and painting "2vth" on the wall in the streets of Alexandria? I wanted to create an iconic representation of the youth's revolution in Egypt. The Guy Fawkes mask holds so much power, its the perfect imagery for revolting. I chose to mash that with Tutankhamun, because he was a young pharaoh who died at the age of 19 (as alot of young Egyptian kids sadly lost their lives too early in the events of the uprising in 2011). Later on, I decided to take off his crown as I wanted him to represent the people not the king. I created a mural of "The 2Vth", right after the uprising in Egypt on this big grey wall in Alexandria, around mid-February just before the Mubarak regime was taken down. Both the Egyptian people and the street art world really respond to it, it was really amazing to see how the people started wearing the Guy Fawkes mask during Egypt's protests post 25 January, 2011.
-How did you feel when you first saw your 2Vth mural become a representation of the Egyptian revolution? After creating "The 2Vth" during the Egyptian revolution, I had the privilege to witness how people can come together as one to make change and do the impossible. When people get over the minor differences and unite for their rights and the common good, it is the most powerful human experience and definitely the most inspiring. I definitely believe that, if art can deliver a message to the people in a powerful, cool, relatable way, it can generate a conversation that empowers people to feel confident to voice their opinion and demand their rights. So as an Egyptian artist, I felt like it was my duty to contribute to visualizing the youth's drive to seek a better future and create an image that represents every single Egyptian, demanding his/hers rights. Later on, The authors of the critically acclaimed book “Walls of Freedom” Basma Hamdy and Don Karl, reached out to feature "The 2Vth" on the cover of the book, which documented all the street art and graffiti that flooded the streets of Egypt during the revolution. The book itself was banned in Egypt and all the copies coming from Germany got confiscated by customs, because they said that the book was "instigating revolt" as it contained imagery confronting the police and armed forces at that time. I guess that piece started a domino effect; resulting in showing my art all over the globe, collaborating with great talents and genius producers that would help me conceptualize my vision to come to life, creating album covers for some of the biggest names in the music industry and getting the attention of my peers & idols.
-How are people reacting to your paintings that discuss the lack of women's rights in the Middle East? The reason I wanted to make the BANNED series, is to play my part as an artist and join forces with all those who fight for women's rights in the Middle East. By using my art as tool to represent and inspire all the Arab women who feel oppressed and have no voice to protest it. Using the Niqab as their superhero costume. It started in 2012 with “Born to Ride”, a piece featuring a girl wearing a full niqab (black burka) breaking the law in her country, risking her freedom and life by taking her gold-studded Harley bike for a revolutionary ride while the police are hot on her tail. Around the same time, Donald Trump was promoting the Muslim Ban, "Born to Ride" birthed my "BANNED" series, discussing women’s lack of equality and rights in the Middle East and confronting islamophobia. Which featured other warrior women in niqab caught in the act of doing things they’re BANNED from doing (pun intended). So, it was really important for me to confront islamophobia and put the spotlight on the lack of equality, insufficient freedoms and oppression that they have to deal with as Arab women. The series has received mixed feedback, it was always either a love or hate reaction, which is what I truly believe what good art should do. The piece got so much love from Middle Eastern activists and art lovers but it also got a lot of angry responses, that reached the point of death threats.
-Your journey took you from painting on street walls to working with big names in the music industry , getting international recognition and having your own products for sale, what are 3 most important things you learned from that journey? 1. Got to have faith and belief that whatever you're investing in is going to work 2. Talent is not enough, you need to be persistent, driven & a hard worker 3. Patience, Good things takes time
-What is your favorite project so far and why? My favorite project I've worked on, is our new art production studio in Egypt. "Shahin Studios". Which is being run by my brother and co-founder, Mohanad Shahin. It was our intention to start the first art production studio that creates high end art prints, aesthetic drops and art installations in Egypt. It started with our first creation "SMOKING KILLS", which is an art piece made entirely out of stolen lighters. We are also currently creating face masks with art printed on them, part of the proceeds from the masks will be donated to COVID-19 efforts.
. -We are admirers of two people you've worked with, Saud and MIA. Can you tell how it was linking up and working with these two artists? I'm very blessed to get to create art for musicians I'm genuinely fan of, Like Saud & MIA. I think Saud, is easily one of the best Middle Eastern producers out there right now. We have been working together since 2017, and I think it was bound for me and Saud to work together, since He's connected to many of my friends and frequent collaborators. It was just a matter of time before colliding the art with the music. The cover for MIA was one of the first covers I ever made (I think around 2010-2011), and I know it had to be special, so I had to really bring everything I had at the time when it came through. Her management and DJ September 7th, reached out for me to do the art, It would probably look much different if I made it now.
-What made you want to start your brand Ownbred, and what is the goal for it? Ownbred started as a passion project between me and 2 of my closest friends Kikam & Saber ElAssar. We all shared the same knowledge for fashion and clothing and the desire to create a brand that represented youth, who are able to achieve self sufficiency and define their own entity in our current times, like they are their own breed (own-bred). We each had our own thing that we are completely focused on and were dedicated to. But at the same time, we all realized the luxury of passive income and having multiple ventures that increase cash flow so we can still be able to pursue our artistic ambitions. So I would say that was one of the main goals behind starting Ownbred.
-Can you tell us about your 'No Sympathy for The Pharaoh' exhibition and what it is about? Ever since I moved to Los Angeles from Egypt in 2017, I was really determined on having my first solo show in the same city that adopted me. So since my arrival, I was relentlessly working on creating art for it ,even though I had no sign of any potential opportunities for my own solo show, I still did the work and created the art for it, so whenever it happens I'd be ready. I was working on a completely new Contemporary Egyptian body of work, I wanted to do basically what ancient Egyptians were doing 7000 years ago, which is to tell and document their history through imagery and art. I've been researching ancient Egyptian murals and paintings and their design system so I can create my own interpretation of them. For "NSFTP", I’ve drawn from ancient references and combined that with modern history, cultural misconceptions and social commentary. The reason why I approached this concept is because as an Egyptian artist, I always felt that Egypt's rich ancient culture in art, design and architecture hasn't been properly referenced or built upon in contemporary Egypt or in the modern world. I wanted to change that through the body of work I did for the exhibition. I really have the intention for the work I’m doing to be looked at in a few hundred years from now the same way we’re looking at Ancient Egyptian Murals & artifacts today.
-What advice do you have for artists and creatives who want to monetize their creations and skills the way you have? I'd say that any one could do it, you just have to start somewhere and have the determination, the will & faith that you'll actually make money off your art despite of your current situation or what everyone around you is saying. I'd recommend trying to invest as much time as you could into developing your craft and style, plant your seeds and the fruits will present themselves sooner than later. And even if they don't, you better not give up because it's not working out now, because its only a matter of time. If you want it, it will happen for you.