You may or may not know El-Teneen (The Dragon) from his striking graffiti works, which have adorned the streets of Cairo since the 2011 revolution. He is an anonymous Egyptian street-artist who quickly rose to fame and critical acclaim for his political and controversial art-works.
His pieces, vividly showcasing his stance on the Mubarak regime and the military junta, started conversations on the streets. El-Teneen is one of the many significant faces of the 2011 revolution. His political street art generated hype around the world for its raw nature and, since the revolution, his work has been showcased in various galleries in and outside Egypt.
Recently, El-Teneen was one of 58 international artists who worked with renowned British street artist Banksy on his latest project Dismaland — a dystopian version of the famous Disneyland amusement parks.
He was the only Egyptian to be featured on the project, and Prime was lucky enough to nab an interview with El-Teneen to discuss his involvement in Dismaland, working with Banksy, as well as his own revolutionary work.
Prime Team: You were the only Egyptian artist to be featured on Banksy’s Dismaland, how did that come about?
El-Teneen: They contacted me, and were interested in showcasing my ‘Kiss’ piece. I worked on ‘Kiss’ as a print a couple of years ago in a show called ‘Of the People’ in Washington, DC.
PT: Tell us a little bit about ‘Kiss’ at Dismaland – what does your piece represent?
ET: ‘Kiss’ is based on a photograph taken by Esteban Ignacio in a protest in Chile in 2011 – I felt like it was representative of what was going on here.
PT: What was working on this project like?
ET: It was inspiring to me, personally, but also quite hectic – since time was very tight between revisiting the original print and turning it into a stencil. Also, I would have loved to visit the show in person, but unfortunately I couldn’t.
PT: How do you feel about Dismaland (as a concept), and Banksy?
ET: When I first learned of the concept, I remembered Banksy’s life-size Guantanamo Bay prisoner balloon that he put up in Disneyland in 2006. I have always had a love/hate relationship with theme parks as they are supposed to be fun but always have super strict security and end up being all about the money generated.
Banksy is one of the first artists whose work I fell in love with when I started to do street art, and being anonymous I never imagined he would curate an exhibition as large as Dismaland. I was excited to see how it would turn out, and I was very excited to be part of it.
PT: Okay, since we covered Dismaland, let’s talk about El-Teneen as a person: How did you get into street art?
ET: I couldn’t stand huge posters of Mubarak so I decided to do something about them. The huge protests of 2011 were the perfect setting, and Tahrir was the perfect place to start.
PT: Which graffiti/work of yours are you most proud of, and why?
ET: ‘Checkmate’. It was simple, but started a conversation about Mubarak, the army, and what happened in the revolution. I was very proud when I returned to it and saw protestors sign their names next to the army of pawns.
PT: Can you tell us a little bit more about similar local artists such as yourself… is there anyone you admire?
ET: I am very excited about the calligraffiti experiments of some upcoming Egyptian artists. There is also a great amount of creativity outpouring on Facebook which I can’t escape. Also, the person who made the Frankestein Neffertiti statute although, unfortunately, I don’t know him/her personally.
PT: The Prime Team have been dying to go on a street art tour of Cairo, can you recommend any spots?
ET: Wust-el-Balad is great. If you’re looking for specific spots, Mohamed Mahmoud and Kasr el Nile areas are good places to start.
PT: To wrap up the interview, what’s in the future for El-Teneen?
ET: Due to many reasons, a lot of the Egyptian street artists whom I know (myself included) are taking a break from working on the street especially in Cairo. I am trying to break the spell, and get a group of us to work on a – hopefully – fun project together.
To check out more of El-Teneen’s artwork, you can visit his website here.