It was hard work to turn the 480 metre-long wall in the Al Arab district of Maadi, from a dumping ground to a colourful artistic scene, full of portraits and patriotic slogans.
‘Egypt in colours’ is an initiative started in February 2011 by five Faculty of Arts graduates, with a passion for art that they always wanted to share with the public.
Their aim was to work on developing arts and culture by reaching the residents of rundown areas and districts and involving them in turning their neighbourhoods into beautiful and artistic settings.
With the combined efforts of Dalia Bahig, Nagla Soliman, Nesma Herky, Noha Hisham, Shahira Kamal and Yasmeen Bahig, the project was started through the social network, Facebook.
The group grew rapidly with 85 volunteers for their first project and their tools and paint were donated by a paint company in Maadi.
The artists worked with passion and a strong belief in the importance of reviving the culture of colour.
Painting walls and graffiti is deeply rooted in Egyptian folk traditions. Ancient Egyptians painted their lives on walls for future generations to look at and learn, while rural areas used to be covered with drawings of holy shrines, airplanes and writings to congratulate whoever had just came back from hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). White houses, decorated with blue authentic Nubian patterns mark traditional homes in villages in Aswan.
Gradually graffiti took on a new modern form, and since the 25 January revolution, it has coloured many walls in the streets of Cairo.
However ‘Egypt in colours’ aims to promote people’s social responsibility towards their own neighbourhood. Colouring and painting walls is just an artistic way to keep these areas clean.
“By developing their love, loyalty and responsibility toward their own district and involving them in our projects, they will always care about it and keep it clean and never let it revert back to a dumping ground,” Shahira Kamal explains.
The group found their inspiration and encouragement during the Egyptian revolution, when a side of the Egyptian character was revived and revealed by the artistic scene reborn in Tahrir Square. Young people started painting, singing, writing poetry and even acting, demonstrating just how Egyptians are natural artists, who have always yearned for the arts after being deprived for a long time.
‘Egypt in Colours’ completed five projects among which was the Al Arab wall in Maadi and four others in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar; the Ahmed Amin primary school, Souq Al Selah preparatory school for girls, Al Refaie mixed primary school and the Al Mohamadya experimental school.
Their projects in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar were coordinated by residents in the district who contacted them through facebook and asked for their input in renovating the four schools.
“We made special designs for each project that fits its nature and shows its character. We don’t usually repeat designs, which makes each of the schools we did in Al- Darb Al-Ahmar unique,” explains Yasmin Bahig.
Amongst the appreciation shown to the artists there was also criticism as some people thought the idea was a waste of money, and better used for the poor and needy.
But this changed when the residents saw the finished work and now are protecting the wall and conducting regular maintenance to keep it intact. “When part of the wall fell down, the residents of Al Arab rebuilt it and contacted us to repaint the reconstructed wall,” said Kamal.
Currently, the group are working on developing into a non-profit organisation to raise funds and obtain official permits to work in unique locations.
They are aiming to expand their projects all over Cairo, transforming deprived areas and enriching important locations such as metro stations and the National Circus wall.