Hi Adham! Please tell us about your experience of giving a Clap Talk

I had no idea what I was getting myself into but I knew the age group so I prepared a presentation. Most of what I do as a designer involves preparing presentations for clients so I already had some material to show, I just added an educational aspect. I wanted to talk about what happened in the Egyptian Revolution and my role as a street artist. The reaction was great. I think, as artists we need that, we need to talk about our work and we need to talk about our work to different crowds. When you have to spell it out for people and explain who you are and what you do to different age groups and backgrounds, it gives you a better understanding of yourself, it’s like looking at yourself from afar. In terms of my personal development, I feel the Clap Talk was amazing. I gave a lecture at the National Institute of Fashion Technology about calligraphy and design, what it’s like to be a freelance designer in Egypt and it was extremely useful. I don’t think that I would have done such a job if I hadn’t done the Clap Talk. It was a good warm up to that to help bring the best out of me. The kind of questions [the students asked] were really cool. They asked things like ‘what are your favourite books? I want to read what you’ve read.’

Why do you think it’s important that kids, in this case Indian kids, hear about what you’re doing with your art?

I feel that we live in a world where we are bombarded with messages, and the state and the corporations motives are aligned, so people are not only being told what to wear and what to buy, they’re also telling you what to think. They want you to conform. They want everyone to have on-hand technology in the form of a smartphone, they want people to be able to give them data on what they want to buy. They want everyone’s location in check. They want you to buy stuff and in order to exist and express yourself as a human being they expect you to keep buying. Buying has become a way of existence. In Egypt, they want you to conform to militarised politics. There’s a world order and there’s always an agenda. I feel street art turns the idea of art on its head where you have ‘white cubes’ (galleries) where art is sold and where art is displayed, it’s [street art] is out there for everyone, it breaks the exclusivity. I also feel that protesting or disrupting the system, the order of the state is very important because even if the state is doing a good job at running the country it needs to be kept in check. Without an opposition, automatically you get a dictatorship, or an autocratic system. Street art challenges the state and challenges corporations and is also a healthy way form of expression.

Reflecting on the student’s responses, do you feel that message came across to the students during your Clap Talk?

Yes. I told them you’re very privileged to be in this school, with good education and good facilities. Take this privilege as a responsibility to do something with your life. I told them that nothing will come easy, you have to fight for everything. That’s something that I definitely took from my own experience of the Egyptian uprising. If you want freedom, you’ve got to pay for it, with blood and sweat. Difficult circumstance make people. I feel that message came across.

At this point of the interview Adham reaches for his backpack and says that he wants to read a message that was written to him on a postcard during his Clap Talk. It’s from a 12-year-old girl called Zahra. Adham says that it sums up the impact that his Clap Talk had on him and on the students.

[To begin with, I cannot thank you enough for giving me such great inspiration early in the morning. It’s a general question that people think ‘what do I want to do with my life?’ and in my case I keep thinking about things and then disregarding them because it takes too much effort. It must take great courage to stand up on your own and try to make a difference in your own way and I honestly respect that. I’ve always studied about the Egyptian Revolution but never really given thought to it. I learnt today that there is actually so much more to it. Also, I’ve never really valued India much, thinking about moving abroad, so it’s hard to believe that this one talk has changed my mind mindset. This one talk had been inspiring, eye-opening and most importantly taught me to introspect and be proud of my own culture! I’d love to help your project in any way that I can and even though I didn’t speak at all throughout the session, I want you to know that we really need more optimistic and revolutionary people such as you in this world :). – Zarhra Mumbai]

It’s feedback like this that really shakes me and makes me feel that i’m on the right track.

Did you learn anything about India/Indian culture from your Clap Talk?

If it wasn’t my first visit to India, I would have probably learnt a lot, but it [the Clap Talk] was during my 6th visit. The kids were blown away by how much I knew about India. I think I would have been taken back by the different backgrounds [of the students]. In Egypt, it’s very homogenous. It’s a predominantly Muslim country and there are some Coptic Christians, but we’re so well integrated that there’s no difference. People speak the same language. Here [in India] there’s just so much diversity within. Some kids would introduce themselves as being from a Muslim family as part of their identity, or where their parents are from originally. Identity is big to them, ‘I’m a Tamil boy’ for example. Egypt is a small country, but even if people come from different parts of the country they never speak about it. We’re all ‘Egyptian’.

Do you think that is a positive thing?

I think that is both a plus and a minus in that there’s this sort of tribalism, but it also brings diversity which I feel is one of the big powers that it brings. The power of India is in its diversity.

Do you believe that Clap Talks can bridge cultural diversity and help bring people together?

Yes, of course! [Laughs]

What would you say to someone thinking of giving a Clap Talk?

I’d say prepare well. Presentations needs to be really visual and self-explanatory, but not a lot of text. They need to be engaging for the children. There must be cultural relevance, so cultural information. I think politics is also very important, especially for the older students. We’re coming to a time on this planet where things are really hitting the fan, we need the younger generations to be intune with politics from an early age.

Were you surprised by how much the students knew, about the Egyptian Uprising for example?

Yes, they were well-educated kids. I asked them ‘where’s Egypt on the map?’ ‘has anyone heard about the revolution?’ ‘what do you know about the revolution?’ I was surprised that they knew it, a lot of other people that I meet [in India] who weren’t so fortunate with good education, don’t know anything about the Egyptian Revolution.

How would you sum up your Clap Talk experience in 3 words?

[Laughs] Inspiring. Motivating. [Adham pauses for a long time] Those words are big enough!

Adham is currently working on Haqeeqat, an Arabic and Hindi/Urdu street calligraphy project that aims to highlight the intertwining paths between language and culture and bring together the artisan craft of calligraphy and street art. For more information about the project, click here.

To find out more about Adham Bakry visit his professional page here.

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