Art teacher turns village in southern Egypt to open-air museum

QENA, EGYPT (Xinhua) – Ahmad al-Assad, a 43-year-old art teacher, decided to turn his village, located in Egypt’s southern province of Qena, to an open-air museum during the anti-COVID-19 lockdown.

Al-Assad decided to use the time during the curfew to paint the walls of old houses in al-Mokhada village with drawings that carry positive messages about tolerance, hope and positivity in addition to the traditions, crafts and heritage of Upper Egypt.

The initiative, started in mid-March, gained widespread praises on social media.

The initiative was a childhood dream come true for al-Assad, but he said it was not easy at the beginning for the idea to be approved by the owners of the houses. “Some families were mocking me, so I decided to decorate a very old deserted house owned by a lady who passed away 80 years ago,” he said.

The fascinating walls cleaned and brushed by al-Assad with images embodying optimism and heritage of Upper Egypt encouraged young men in the village to help him voluntarily.

Ahmad al-Assad paints a wall of an old house with drawings at al-Mokhada village in Qena province, Egypt. PHOTO: XINHUA

They brought materials, brushes, and colours by themselves to complete more houses.

“The children and young people who were laid off or feeling bored with staying home for long hours were keen on learning to design and colour the walls,” al-Assad said.

Ten houses have been finished in two months, the artist said, noting that each wall takes nearly four days of work and costs around EGP700 (about USD43) to finish.

He explained that the paintings were not designed randomly. They personalised the design according to the characteristics of the house owners.

Ahmad Salah, a 50-year-old Math teacher, deemed that the initiative has led to a cultural and artistic momentum in the village. “Even old ladies were helping by providing food and juice to the painters,” he said while taking a selfie near his house that was decorated with rulers, pencils and triangles.

Ashraf al-Dawdi, governor of Qena, hailed the idea and asked al-Assad to apply it in other villages.

He pointed out that the initiative has injected the energy of young people to the village and largely raised awareness about the importance of preserving environmental beauty.

Al-Dawdi told Xinhua that he will inspect the work in other villages, and honour al-Assad with EGP5,000 in cash.