A drive down Maadi’s Road 9 – where coffee shops, bakeries and vegetable stalls are lined alongside old villas – is a bit more colorful these days. A mural stretches on one wall, bright and eye-catching to all passersby.
One of the men behind the mural is Elhamy Naguib, a figure who is as colorful as the murals he’s hoping to paint all around the city.
A graphic artist by trade, he leads groups of people to paint these murals in mere days. Calling his project “Color the City, Naguib is hoping to achieve two things with his murals: make Cairo a visually vibrant, artistic city and teach children and adults alike the pleasures of painting.
He found inspiration in Betty Edward’s seminal book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which divorces the notion of talent from ability. The theory is that anyone can draw by simplifying their approach to the subject.
Naguib wanted to execute this theory, using his personal designs with kids and adults whom he had either given art lessons or met through his work at various NGOs in Egypt.
To simplify the subjects of the paintings for the students, he divided and enlarged each grid of the mural design. “Cutting down the components of art, makes it so simple and enjoyable, said Naguib.
“Mural painting.there’s a methodology to it; in 10 steps, I [show] kids and adults their own ability.
He divided the mural on Road 9 into two, so that another artist named Mido and himself can take the lead on each. Curious passersby asked to join in. “The idea [about murals] is to teach the team how to do things according to their abilities. A young child was instructed to paint a flower at the bottom. An adult was shown how to draw a horse.
The project intends to, first and foremost, encourage painting, regardless of the artistic outcome, he said laughing. In the mural of Road 9, it’s easy to see where talented artists and young ones contributed. It is endearingly childish at the bottom where young ones could have reached.
It takes mere days to paint large walls. Recently, 20 people painted 60 meters of space in just three days. “I don’t necessarily need talented people, the principal is so simple. What’s important is that you have a set design, a plan and you follow it in 10 steps.
Since the inception of his idea three months ago, Naguib has painted five murals in areas including Stabl Antar, an area in Old Cairo reached by getting off at the Zahra Station on the metro line. In the slum neighborhood, Naguib inspired the children in much the same way as the children in Shubra.
Each mural differs in design or topic. In painting Shubra’s “Beauty and the Environment mural, Naguib faced surprising challenges. “People are wary when we come. ‘Surely you’re going to destroy our homes,’ was one initial reaction. They have such fear of the government, anyone dressed nicely is assumed to be some official. Therefore I insist on doing more, we need to connect more with these people.
Jovial and good spirited, Naguib answers the recurring question of “why are you doing this for us? with a simple “because we love you. But still, most people are perplexed as to why anyone would come to their neighborhood to simply paint. “They have such a heavy burden of oppression, he said.
“The hardest thing for me is the day we leave, said Naguib, recalling the many tearful goodbyes with the children who took part in the workshops, seminars and painting.
“It’s so simple, it’s there, all this greatness is inside of them and I don’t have to shout or fight with them, just connect. For discipline purposes there were moments of paternal like sternness, but even that they appreciated. I want to teach them to be conscientious and thorough.
The lively mural on Road 9 is a hodgepodge of characters and styles. Giraffes, clouds, pyramids and horses greet you as you walk by. Naguib, whose versatile artistic talents range from graphics to mosaic and print, is also changing peoples’ conception of art as being something easy to create and, more importantly, to be enjoyed by all.