The Art Of A Thousand No’s 

Greetings everyone, my name is Julie Masters and welcome to another episode of Inside Influence. In which I delve into the minds of some of the world’s most fascinating influencers – or experts in influence – to get to the bottom of what it really takes to own your voice – and then amplify it to drive an industry, a conversation, a movement or a nation.

In this episode, we dive into the nuts and bolts of one simple word…. NO. As its definition NO is described as just ’a negative answer or decision’. However in reality – for many of us – summoning the courage to say No often feels impossible.

With that in mind, what if there were more ways to say No? What if there were a thousand ways? Today we dive into what it is to say no with clarity and conviction – and even look deeply at the question of whether it’s possible to say a fiercely powerful ‘no’ – with kindness.

Today’s conversation is with the incredible artist and Art Historian Bahia Shehab. In Arabic the literal translation for the word ‘No’ is ‘No and A Thousand Times No’. It’s this concept – a thousand times no – that started as an artwork, became a book, reformed into a protest, and went on to be heard as one voice of a revolution.

It was during the Egyptian revolution in 2011 – the first day of which (25th of January) is literally referred to now as The Day Of Anger – Bahia was overcome with rage against the dictators, the violence – and what became military rule. Like many of the people I meet and the people I know – she describes herself as ‘a quiet person’. Shouting and screaming on the streets wasn’t something that came naturally to her.

So instead of screaming – after witnessing the endless stories and images of atrocities – flooding both her City and the internet – she realized she could no longer choose to stay at home safely with her children. She had to find some way to contribute her voice.

So she chose a way of communicating that she did know – a way that drew on her talents as an artist.

Having been invited in 2010 to participate in an exhibition to commemorate 100 years of Islamic art in Europe. She had researched and collated over 1000 symbols for the word ‘no’ in Arabic script – producing both an artwork and a book documenting their history.

So she went back to these symbols – and began spraying them on the streets, in public squares. Channeling these 1000 ‘no’s’ (in her own words ‘just like ammunition’). No to military rule. No to violence. No to dictatorship. No to beating women.

The impact of her work – and the work of the many, many Egyptian artists on the streets at that time – started conversations, provoked debate and above all – at a time when a regime could literally turn off all the phones in a country – allowed the voiceless to be heard.

Bahia has since been selected as one of BBC’s 100 Women for two consecutive years. Been invited as a TED Global Fellow – and became the first woman from the Arab region to receive the UNESCO Shar-jah Prize for Arab Culture.

In this conversation we cover:

● The challenges of saying a fierce No – when being loud doesn’t come naturally

● Why actions (and art) can often be louder than words

● Exactly why a small word can be so powerful – both to hear and to say – that it’s able to both start and stop a revolution

● Why street art can be pivotal in starting and monitoring progressive conversations

● The innate power of storytelling – as a tool to remember the past, shape the future and avoid making the same mistakes.

● Finally the role of empathy when setting boundaries, and why a kind ‘No’ can be one of the most powerful acts of love – and sometimes – alter history itself

One quote that has stayed with me from this conversation is this… “You can crush the flowers, but you can’t delay spring.”

This episode is for anyone that’s felt – or currently feels – crushed by the word ‘no’. By the strength it takes to express it – and to hear it – and then to deal with the consequences that inevitably follow. In particular it dives into the story of one woman (who also represents the many others both in Egypt and globally) who are brave enough to show up and – not only say it – but say it without resorting to violence.

Anyway – enough of me. You may notice the internet drop in and out a few times with this one – unfortunately the connection wasn’t fantastic in Cairo on this day – but sometimes you just have to work with what you have. Please enjoy my conversation with Bahia Shehab.

To view Bahia’s Ted Talk Click Here:

Listen to this Inside Influence Podcast Episode

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