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International Artist Installs Sociopolitical Mural Series at Baker Institute



HOUSTON – (December 1, 2021) – A bold public art project has been established at Rice University’s Baker Institute. The nonpartisan think tank, in partnership with the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University, has commissioned a series of murals by world-renowned Egyptian artist Ganzeer for its second-floor public hallways.

The installation is divided into four walls titled: Tu Lucha, Every Beautiful Poem, The ABC’s of Growth, and The ABC’s of Power. Ganzeer’s work incorporates two artistic styles, black and white “glyph” murals and colorful and layered mixed-media murals. The “glyph” walls rely on carefully designed icons — almost like a long-lost language — to evoke themes inherent to the institute’s mission and research. Each of the mixed media works acts as a quasi-recreation of walls from Mexico and the Middle East across vast spans of time and space, resulting in a collage-like cacophony of overlapping sociopolitical expression.

“I really wanted these murals to be strictly informed by the environment and conditions within which they were created,” said Ganzeer, “but also quite conversely, to have a very transformative effect on the space.”

The design is loosely inspired by the Baker Institute’s areas of study, notably the Centers for Energy Studies, Health and Biosciences, and Public Finance, as well as the Center for the Middle East, and Center for the United States and Mexico. Baker Institute fellows who office on the second floor by the mural have been invited by Ganzeer to participate in the mixed-media installation over the course of his work.

“Ganzeer’s work alternates between a brilliant compilation of images and a sobering ‘alphabet of growth,” said Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian, director of the Baker Institute. “Through it all Ganzeer documents our societal dilemmas and engages us in solving them.”

Ambassador Djerejian consulted with Rice University’s Moody Center for the arts director Alison Weaver and Rice University’s Moody Center for the arts curator Frauke V. Josenhans to bring the commission to life.

"Ganzeer has a unique skill to address timely and global issues and to transcribe them through bold lines, images, and color,” Josenhans said. “Despite depicting difficult topics, his work is essentially human, appealing to universal values.”

Born and raised in Egypt, Ganzeer created politically charged murals during the Arab Spring that brought him international attention. His art continues to bear witness to the social and political upheaval of our time. He chose the name “Ganzeer” (which means “bicycle chain” in English) as a metaphor for artists’ roles as connectors that help set things in motion, namely ideas that drive forth change. Ganzeer has had art residencies in Finland, Poland and Switzerland, and his art has been shown in various countries. He is currently based in Houston. The Moody first introduced Ganzeer to the Rice community with a Summer Window Series in 2020. These four wall paintings are a part of the Rice Public Art collection.

The Baker Institute gratefully acknowledges Cyvia Wolff for her generous support of Ganzeer’s work.

 

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Further background on the mural series, including an explanation of the iconography, follows:

The Egyptian-born artist Ganzeer (b. 1982, Giza, Egypt) is known for his multifaceted work that reflects on timely issues ranging from immigration and geopolitics to the environment. Using powerful visual elements, he blends art, design and storytelling. Through diverse media — including comic books, graphic design, painting, pamphlets, murals and installations — Ganzeer creatively addresses difficult topics, expressing his ideas through bold lines, images and colors while appealing to the universal values of peace, freedom and equality.

The artist was commissioned to create four site-specific murals on the second floor of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy to echo the institute’s overall mission of providing a nonpartisan platform “to build a bridge between the world of ideas and the world of action.”

Ganzeer chose to create a dual design: two walls feature layers of colorful media and two walls adhere to a black-and-white composition. Together, all four murals respond to the work of the research and policy centers located nearby.

The mixed media walls, titled “Tu Lucha” and “Every Beautiful Poem,” were inspired by the uprising in Cairo between 2011 and 2013. During that period of upheaval, the walls of the city became the most immediate means of expression for the Egyptian people, representing the unfiltered reactions to current events through visuals and words. Ganzeer created the two multilayered murals on view at the institute by superposing acrylic paint, vintage posters, Mexican comics and other materials, and he invited Baker Institute fellows to participate by inscribing their ideas, thoughts or quotes on the walls. In close proximity to the Center for the Middle East and the Center for the United States and Mexico, numerous visual references speak to the rich and diverse cultures of those geographic areas and highlight seminal figures in literature and the arts, including Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera, and in science, Grace Hopper, Chien-Shiung Wu, Dorothy Hodgkins and others. The sometimes-stark images also reflect on propaganda, the use of weapons and racial stereotypes. Images of Cairo, various urban sites in the Middle East, religious edifices, including mosques and minarets, as well as community settlements such as a kibbutz reflect the wide-reaching research of the Baker Institute. Despite the visual cacophony, the works are united by overarching themes that convey a message of multiplicity, acceptance and peace.

For the walls titled “The ABC's of Growth and The ABC's of Power,” in close proximity to the McNair Center for Entrepreneurship & Economic Growth, the Center for Public Finance, and the Center for Energy Studies, Ganzeer conceived a strictly black and white design, made of various pictograms inserted into an invisible grid. Partially inspired by hieroglyphs — stylized images of an object representing a word, syllable, or sound — Ganzeer used images, such as a bee or a tree, to conceive an original abstract visual language that spells out the names and missions of the centers, and symbolizes growth.