In Saudi Arabia, we were all amazed by the quality and quantity of the graffiti created in Lebanon, and specifically Beirut, when it appeared as the first street art in the Arab world. Then, after the Egyptian revolution started, street artists did not only go to protest on Tahrir Square; they also used Egypt’s walls to document the revolution and convey its message.
Here in Saudi Arabia, things are always different compared to the rest of the Arab world. It’s been hard to express our critical opinions, we have even been censored. To be able to make a difference and raise your voice, you have to think a million times about ways of doing it without getting into trouble.
One of these ways is the visual language, something that has grown amazingly in the region recently. The street art movement has become something big, alongside the development of art galleries and ateliers.
Regardless the quality of the content and execution of the street art, Saudi youth is now expressing feelings and opinions on the city walls. This has always been like a measuring tool, reflecting the level of criticism, frustration or even hope in society.
As Saudis, we grew up seeing random statements all over the walls, such as “A+T= <3” or “Abu Shanab” (Moustache Guy). Or tags from different, mostly online, groups such as X5, WAX or T7. These groups gather to make street art, they participate in competitions, but they also spray their tags everywhere across the city competing on who sprays the most.
When it first came, graffiti was considered as the new and edgy kind of painting used by the young artistic crowd. Yet it was mostly practiced either on paper, to be shared in Facebook groups, or drawn legally during indoors competitions and events. These early graffiti works usually did not criticise or discuss social matters.
But nowadays, with the constant exposure through new media of young people to everything concerning politics and society from all around the world, things are starting to change. So it was only normal that the visual scene too would develop content-wise.
“Mal3ob 3laina” is an online show that talked about poverty in one of Riyadh’s neighbourhoods during one of its episodes, causing the arrest of the crew. They were held in custody for two weeks without charges, which lead to a big solidarity campaign on different social media networks.
This graffiti says Monopoly. It is also a reaction to a short online Saudi movie, which dealt with the housing crisis that many of the youth in the country face.
“For sale due to lack of commitment”: after the Jeddah floods in the end of 2009, this mysterious message appeared on important historical monuments in the city. Police cars covered the whole area and closed the road for about 2 hours because they did not know how to take it down.
One of the first street art pieces to make a buzz in the country was this one in Jeddah, right behind a famous coffee shop. The stencil says “Oil = People”.
Once people noticed the previous graffiti, everyone started sharing a picture of it on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Some went to take their own pictures of the art.
Around the same time, not far away, another piece appeared. On a brand new purple garbage container, the message “dirty country” was sprayed. The container was removed and repainted in just a few days.
These images portray the potent and promising street art that has entered contemporary Saudi culture. In order to support and document this movement, the blog Saudi Street Art was created. Anyone can contribute to it through sending their own work or graffiti they spot to the blog administrator.
Finally a video with Dhah, one of the groups of rising graffiti artists. They have been part of the movement’s growth and are considered to be some of the best street artists in the region.