A Thousand Times No (“A thousand times no”), such is the name given by the Lebanese artist Bahia Shehab to this work created on the occasion of the exhibition “The Future of Tradition – The Tradition of Future” which, in September 2010, commemorated at the Haus der Kunst in Munich (Germany) the presentation, in the same place, a hundred years earlier, of the masterpieces of Arab-Muslim art. The exhibition also seeking to highlight the works of contemporary Arab women, Bahia Shehab, residing in Egypt, participated. Claiming to be “citizen of the world, artist, Arab and woman” at the same time, she considered that the only thing she had to say was “no”. Because in his eyes there were at least a thousand things – or reasons – to say no.
Drawing from the very sources of her tradition, she resorted to the expression commonly used in Arabic: “No, and a thousand times no. “ She then undertook for this work to research through all the countries of Arab-Muslim culture a thousand ways of representing Lam-Alif, the first two letters of the word “no” in Arabic, both through architecture and pottery, the goldsmith’s work, calligraphy, illuminations or textiles. This search, she said, was all the easier because in Arabic, the declaration of faith called Shahadah begins with the words: “There is no god but God. “
A few months later, in January 2011, the Egyptian Revolution broke out. For months, under the military regime, citizens were gassed, wounded or even killed in the street, up to two steps from the university where she taught. The very idea of remaining a “passive witness sitting at her desk” became unbearable to Bahia Shehab, who then decided to take action by resorting to this treasure of characters, signs and motifs that she had so painstakingly inventoried. for the Munich exhibition. Determined, she considered that “as an artist, all I can do is paint.”
From then on, these characters became her ammunition, and she started using stencils to draw graffiti on the city walls in protest: “No to the establishment of martial law; no to the assassination of religious; no to sectarianism; no to lies; no to a state of emergency; no to the destruction of books; no to a new pharaoh; no to extremism; no to discrimination; no to the use of blood; no to stupidity; no to hatred; no to violence, no to closed minds; no to obscurantism… ”How not to salute this form of courage which, ignoring danger, resorts to graffiti, an ephemeral art par excellence, to resist oppression?