Situated on the banks of the Nile, northeast of Cairo, Mansoura is the capital of the Dakahlia Governorate. The city isn’t necessarily a tourist destination, but it’s home to some of Egypt’s best and brightest — the students of Mansoura University, ranked third in the country.
Three students — Ahmed Alkomy, EmanMoham and Sarah Gomaa Mo’awad — are helping to put Mansoura on the map. Together, they rounded up 30 classmates who shared their affection for art, pooled what limited resources they had and set out to beautify the neglected buildings in their community — wall by wall.
Alkomy reflected on the early days of the initiative: “The idea came when I was walking in the streets of my city and saw the buildings that made the street ugly. I said to myself, ‘we would be better off if those buildings did not exist.’ From there, the idea of drawing on the buildings came to me.”
“Art is my passion,” added Mo’awad. “I want to use art to make a difference and show people that, with some effort, we can make our city a better place.”
The students called themselves, and their work, Artmania.
They started with private residences on side streets, dividing into teams based on their talents and creating graffiti works of art where they were able to secure permission. Drab walls gave way to colorful, abstract patterns, and large-scale paintings of people and animals. But art materials and available spaces were short in supply.
“We experienced some issues — like, how we going to buy the materials, and from where, and how much money we are going to need, and is it legal to draw in public streets,” explained Mo’awad. “And, how are people are going to accept our drawings?”
Just as the grassroots art initiative started to dry up, Dakahlia’s governor took notice. He admired the drawings and asked to meet the students behind them. Following that meeting, the governor coordinated with local officials to allow the students to draw on city walls. He offered to pay for their materials, and provided them space to store their supplies and hold their meetings.
“When we started to work in the streets, the whole desire of the team was to restore the spirit of art and beauty to the streets, and rid it of any ugly scenes,” said Moham. “The spirit of the team was a combination of cooperation and love, which made the governor want to support us.”
Added Mo’awad, “He wants to encourage everyone who has an idea to make our city beautiful to pursue it.”
The governor isn’t the only Egyptian leader encouraging deeper civic engagement by the nation’s youth. Under President Sisi’s direction, the Government is holding a series of dialogues with youth audiences to listen to their views and provide opportunities for this important demographic to fully participate in the economy and other aspects of Egyptian life.
It’s among many steps the Government is taking to enhance vocational training and support for Egypt’s rising generation of educated, forward-thinking and creative youth. Social protection is a cornerstone of the government’s reform efforts.
Artmania’s founders are grateful for local government assistance and proud of what their work communicates about their generation.
“This project says that young people in Egypt are active in pursuing their dreams,” said Mo’awad. “They are very effective in their communities and want to make help make our country great.”
The student-artists are inspiring their community and country, and proving that change is possible with courage, vision and support. Already, their presence on social media has attracted inquiries from private citizens, university groups, and governorates in Egypt and beyond who want to commission or replicate their work.
“The people of Egypt can do the impossible for their country. We have the capacity to make the country beautiful and safe,” said Alkomy.