Mia Gröndahl — officially — is a Swedish journalist, writer and photographer. Unofficially, she is a fire-eater, a chef, a rose expert and everything in between. Almost two years ago, I met Gröndahl most randomly in Cairo’s posh suburb of Zamalek.
Two friends of mine were doing graffiti one Friday morning and all of a sudden this cab stops and out jumps this foreign woman who went straight to the wall and asked to photograph it.
Conversation began and I discovered that this was the very same Gröndahl of Gaza Graffiti, the only book seriously focusing on Palestinian graffiti. And now she was doing the same for Egyptian graffiti, with her newest book Revolution Graffiti: Street Art of the New Egypt, released last month.
At first glance, you would not think that this prolific author would be the kind of person attracted to the graffiti world. Having published several books, Gröndahl has a noticeable wild streak to those paying attention and, curiously, sits comfortably amid the eccentric world of graffiti artists.
The Middle East has been her home for the last 15 years. Her interest in region began as a child and, at one point, she even contemplated becoming an Egyptologist. She made regular trips to the region before moving permanently to Jerusalem in 1996. She remembers photographing her first graffiti, a wedding piece, in Gaza in 1993.
“I felt immediately that I was attracted to it and I just wanted to continue with my camera and do it,” she recalls. “But, you know when you went to Gaza back then, there were so many important things.
You didn’t go with the camera to cover graffiti; you went because there was something very serious happening. And, I didn’t take it seriously, so I felt I couldn’t start.”
By 2000, she had realized that graffiti was a key player in the political life of Palestinians. “A lot of the young people who did graffiti in Gaza did it for the core reason that graffiti is made,” she explains, “to let people know that ‘I Exist’ and with the graffiti, also, ‘I Resist’.”
From 2000, Gröndahl seriously documented graffiti until the aftermath of the 2009 war on Gaza. Then, it was possible for different opinions and views, but, today, Hamas is the dominant and only voice. The walls, Gröndahl sadly reminisces, are no longer as rich as they used to be.