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Street art is a well-known medium for self-expression, and younger generations coming of age accept and practice the art form more than older generations. In several Middle Eastern cities, street art has a cultural and political significance that doesn’t only reflect artists’ self-expression, but also tells the stories of people living in these areas.
Travelers looking to take a walk through modern history as it is being recorded can enjoy visits to the following Middle Eastern cities.
Beirut, LebanonStreet art in Beirut started in response to the civil war that began in the 1970s, but today, most art is focused on creating beauty in public spaces and borrowing from local culture to make art.
For example, “calligraffiti” uses Arabic calligraphy as the subject of murals. Other street art focuses on social action and honoring public figures. For those looking for a guided way to see the art, some tour operators, such as Alternative Tour Beirut, offer walking tours that discuss the history of the city and how street art reflects that history.
Cairo, EgyptStreet art in Cairo was not very common until protestors took to the streets in 2011 against the Hosni Mubarak regime. Ever since, street art has lined the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which leads to Tahrir Square. Some murals even display the faces of fallen protestors or tell stories of the revolution.
For example, the wall of the American University of Cairo has been said to have become like a newspaper of the revolution, sharing news and political commentary with viewers. The wall still stands today and offers a look into this historical moment.
Walking tours of Cairo, such as Urban Adventures’ Downtown Cairo tour, offer insight and context into the street art all over Cairo’s walls.
Dubai, UAEDubai has really embraced street art as a modern way to beautify the bustling city. Countless neighborhoods and shopping centers have taken to the trend of commissioning local and international artists to decorate once drab walls, such as in the Al Karama neighborhood and Jumeirah Beach Road.
Some street art has turned whole neighborhoods into outdoor museums. At the La Mer beachfront, a mural of a child in heart-shaped sunglasses telling viewers to “stay cool” has become a popular selfie spot, along with other murals.
Similarly, 2nd December Street has been transformed into the Dubai Street Museum, where murals of children playing, animals and historical figures adorn huge facades around the Satwa neighborhood. Tourists can learn about the art through tours provided by the travel app Withlocals or on independent walking tours available on the Visit Dubai website.
Istanbul, TurkeyIstanbul is full of neighborhoods that are covered in murals, such as Karakoy, Taksim and Kadikoy. Kadikoy, which is regarded as the center for street art in the city, is known for being not too crowded while still full of shops and restaurants. Thanks to the Mural Istanbul Festival, large murals by international and local artists alike decorate the walls with modern art.
However, clients don’t have to rely on tour guides to teach them about street art because they can use the convenient Street Art Istanbul app to look for murals and learn about them while walking around the city independently.
Tehran, IranAnother destination for witnessing both social commentary and culture on walls all over the city is Tehran. Some murals provide a look back into Iran’s revolutionary history from the 1980s, where anti-American work reflects the tension of the time.
The “calligraffiti” style can also be found in Tehran. Other murals are officially sanctioned by the government to beautify neighborhoods, but many works of street art are still painted by underground artists. Local tour operators, such as Free Walking Tours with Abbas, offer walking tours to both learn about the street art in the city as well as Persian culture and history.
Tel Aviv, IsraelStreet art in Tel Aviv can be found all over the city, including by the Jaffa Port or on Rothschild Boulevard. But for the highest concentration of cultural and political pieces, visit the Florentin neighborhood. This area in the south of Tel Aviv is known for its young, cool atmosphere.
Its street art ranges from classical typography to social commentary regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. Tours of street art are run by a variety of local tour operators, but the public murals are so plentiful that all it takes for a successful tour is keeping your eyes on the walls.