CAIRO – In parts of the Arab world, watermelon is a term for nonsense, a joke, or a sham. Egyptian artist Heba Amin has put the fruit to work in her art. In 2015, she was part of a group of graffiti artists hired by the TV show Homeland to decorate street scenes in a Syrian refugee camp. Unbeknownst to the producers, they wrote subversive messages critiquing the politics of the show. The messages included “Homeland is racist,” “Homeland is not a series,” and “Homeland is watermelon.”
Walking a Watermelon in Cairo, Amin’s 2016 public performance piece, is another act of subversion. Amin says the work was in response to the call of Chinese artist Han Bing, who more than 15 years ago started walking a cabbage on a leash (for poor Chinese, he said, the cabbage is a symbol of sustenance and comfort). During Bing’s performance, he asked people to question what “normal practice” is, and to reflect on what we’ve become blind to in the routines of our daily lives. “You can walk radishes, watermelons, or nothing,” he said. This launched a social project that became a global phenomenon. Artists around the world, like Amin, started walking fruits and vegetables.
Amin says that Walking a Watermelon in Cairo prompts the question, “Is artivism worth pursuing as a mechanism or is it just another tool that uses media to heighten the public’s consciousness?”