First Published: 2017-10-02

Artists transform poor Nile Delta village into open air museum
'This is how art can turn from an elitist thing into something that changes the lives of the poor.', Egyptian artist Abdel Wahab Abdel Mohsen.
Middle East Online

By Mohamed Abu Shanab - ASWAN

A view of a painted wall in Borg al-Burullus village

A poor Nile Delta village has been converted into an open-air gallery by artists who transformed the fronts of small homes with enthralling paintings.

Borg al-Burullus, 300km north of Cairo, has been deprived of essential services such as sewage, clean water and paved roads, for decades. Art, however, is trying to alleviate the suffering of the areas more than 60,000 residents, most of whom are poor fishermen and their families.

The artists who painted the fronts of our homes have turned art into something with a message and a real effect on the lives of the people here, said Abdel Hamid Attia, a resident in his early 60s. The walls of these homes are witnesses to everything in the lives of their dwellers. The artists have turned them into real-life scenes that speak and send colour and smell.

The idea of painting the faades of the homes was driven by the artists desire to change the deep-rooted approach of confining art to the limits of frames. By turning buildings into artworks, the artists positively influenced the behaviour of residents.

Borg al-Burullus has suffered from decades of neglect but the beautification initiative inspired Attia and other residents to be keener on cleaning streets and alleyways and maintaining the painted walls.

This is how art can turn from an elitist thing into something that changes the lives of the poor, said Abdel Wahab Abdel Mohsen, the leading artist on the project. The paintings on the fronts of the buildings are creating a new spirit and new realities.

Abdel Mohsen and fellow artists said they selected Borg al-Burullus for reasons beyond it needing sprucing up, including its location overlooking Lake Burullus, one of several major fishing lakes in Egypt, and the increasing number of foreign artists visiting the country.

Thanks to the generosity of the villagers and the enthusiasm of their children, who were keen to be part of the painting experience, the artists produced real-life scenes. Some paintings capture the Nile, others depict farmlands on the outskirts of the village or scenes of the peoples daily life.

Some of the artists took their contribution further and painted fishing boats.

The beautification, however, cannot veil the areas problems: Sewage is bad, electricity intermittent and unemployment rampant.

Many of the villages youth have to travel some outside Egypt to find work, Attia said. Nonetheless, the contribution of these artists has given us hope that change can happen.

The villagers are appreciative of how art can affect their lives. The alleyways and streets had been littered with refuse. Some young residents have taken the initiative of painting the interiors of their homes.

This proves that art is not made for joy and visual beauty only, said Abdullah Mahmud, one of the artists participating in the project. It can be a tool for change and development.

Now, Abdel Mohsen said he has a dream: Turning Borg al-Burullus into a model for the development of the rest of Egypt, especially the thousands of deprived towns and villages.

He even has a bigger dream: Putting the area on Egypts tourist map by having an annual painting festival, one that can become an occasion for international artists to gather in the village and put their talent into practice by painting the walls of its homes.

I just want to prove that development can become very possible with art, Abdel Mohsen said. Art is not costly and it can make a lot of change. It can change peoples behaviour and the way they see life and give them hope.

Mohamed Abu Shanab is an Egyptian reporter based in Aswan.

This article was originally published In The Arab Weekly.


Saudi to carry out nuclear power deal with or without US

Egyptians prepare to vote with Sisi reelection guaranteed

Israel ministers welcome US appointment of 'friend' Bolton

Iran slams US sanctions over hacking scheme

Exiled Syrian doctors treat refugees in Turkey

Policeman dead in bombing in Alexandria

Syria rebels prepare to quit penultimate pocket of Ghouta

Syrians in Manbij fear Turkey, bet on US

Mother Courage: Iraqi widow who saved recruits from slaughter

Quick victory unlikely in Egypt assault on IS

Sisi, Egypt's undisputed leader and 'father figure'

PKK to quit northwest Iraq after Turkish threat

Iraqi asylum seeker gets life sentence for London bombing

UK says Israeli sentencing of Palestinian teenage girl "emblematic"

Sarkozy vows to clear name in Libya probe

Syria announces second evacuation deal for rebel-held Eastern Ghouta.

Three dead after suspected IS gunman takes hostages in France

170,000 flee violence in Syria's Afrin

Norway proposes bill to ban full-face veils in education

Turkey says EU statements on Cyprus 'unacceptable'

Air strikes hit Ghouta despite rebel ceasefire effort

US approves $1 billion in Saudi defence contracts

In world first, flight to Israel crosses Saudi airspace

Saudi, US must pursue 'urgent efforts' for Yemen peace: Mattis

US, Jordan launch new counterterrorism training centre

Turkey’s largest media group to be sold to Erdogan ally

Rebels evacuate Syria's Eastern Ghouta

Two Hamas security force members killed in raid on bomb suspect

Turkey gives watchdog power to block internet broadcasts

EU leaders to condemn Turkey’s ‘illegal’ actions in Mediterranean

Sarkozy says life ‘living hell’ since corruption allegations

Hezbollah leader says debt threatens Lebanon disaster

Ahed Tamimi reaches plea deal for eight months in jail

UN launching final push to salvage Libya political agreement

Conditions for displaced from Syria's Ghouta 'tragic': UN

Sisi urges Egyptians to vote, denies excluding rivals

Rights Watch says Libya not ready for elections

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007