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Home2011Vegetables in an Arab Spring

Vegetables in an Arab Spring

Often when I look at my artwork, I can vividly recall that moment in time when it was being created- where I was, conversations that I was listening too and even the emotions that I was feeling as I laid brush to paper.
Three years ago, I was in Cairo. The weather was stormy and uncertain, unusual for that that time of year. The dark clouds mirrored an uneasy feeling in the city. There was trouble in Tunisia and rumours abounded, but it all seemed so far away and so unlikely. I was more interested in getting on with my botanical art assignment for the SBA. I had just bought some purple carrots (Daucus carota)  from one of the street stalls and was looking forward to starting my sketches. 
Believe it or not, once upon a time, all carrots were purple. Although they originate from Afghanistan, purple carrots have been in Egypt for thousands of years and are even depicted on tomb walls. 
The first sign of trouble was the internet being turned off, and then the telephones.  Then the protests started. We lived in an affluent area in Cairo and we were surprised to find a small crowd on the street outside. At each building, the crowd would call up “inzil, inzil, inzil” (meaning “Come down”), and they would smile and clap and cheer as people joined them on the streets. It was all very good natured and polite. There were children and people waving flags. I went back to my painting.
Within a few hours, all hell had broken loose. Shopping centres were plundered and set on fire, the police were gone and the prisoners had all been set loose. The images that were being shown on TV were both shocking and bewildering. Cairo was in chaos. We went to bed, unsure of what would happen the next day.
The next day we woke up to the sound of army helicopters in the sky and tanks on the streets. Black smoke from fire filled the air. The mosque began to call all the men to come and defend the neighbourhood. Suddenly the streets were filled with men carrying machetes, shotguns, swords, batons, baseball bats … whatever weapon they could find. The Army began to send text messages to us all, telling people not to panic. Everyone was terrified. A curfew was set in place and people were told to close their curtains and not to venture out.  I stayed at home and painted vegetables.

Written on the side of the page- “We all have a voice
It was a surreal and frightening few weeks. People were terrified of what might happen but with their worries came a great sense of community. People looked out for each other, shared food, swapped stories. The young men guarded the streets from attack.  Neighbours called into each other and brought dishes of hot food. There was fear, but there was enormous optimism too. 

Three years on, I find myself looking at these vegetable studies and my finished carrot painting,  and all these emotions and memories come flooding back. So much has happened since. I hope Egypt finds the peace and stability that it deserves. My Revolutionary Carrots will be submitted to the SBA this year.

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