“Look at their eyes; how those talented young people with special needs feel triumphant, successful and proud of their creation on display before the public. I have not seen such an unbeaten look before,” Samia Fahmi, secretary of the association Right to Live, noted.
The event was held on 10 December to unveil two murals, “City of Peace”, created by young talented Egyptian and Austrian artists with special needs in an unusual venue in Cairo, the Sadat Metro station. The sponsor was the Austrian cultural centre.
The project is the brainchild of the two artist brothers, Emad and Ayman Atef al-Meeri, who wanted to prove that people with special needs have hidden talents no less than other people. “We just gave them the opportunity to express themselves,” the brothers said.
Emad, the elder of the two, is studying for a master’s degree in fine arts. His younger brother Ayman is a student at the same college.
It was the marginalisation of people with special needs that ignited the brothers’ desire to change the view of society towards those who are not just “a blessing in the home”, as the popular saying goes. However many people, not excluding the well-educated, think that having a disabled child is a kind of punishment of God. The truth is very different, Emad says: the disabled child has rights in life like any other.
On view to all
Each glazed ceramic mural measures 5.6m x 2m and was created in under five days, although preparation of the materials took twice that long.
Emad and Ayman suggested two initial ideas to the Austrian cultural centre; the first was an obelisk or a pyramid in a public square, and the second was a mural. The centre chose the second idea, believing that murals were most seen in a crowded place and thus available to all Egyptians. Following approval, the necessary licenses were obtained from the authorities.
The event was attended by artists, dignitaries and officials, who gave speeches before unveiling the murals. A background accompaniment was provided by the guitarist Wa’el Khidr.
Mohsen Shaalan, representing the Minister of Culture, said there was a need in Egypt for such experimental art so it could take its place on the world stage. “Egyptians need such cultural events,” he said.
The deputy director of the Austrian cultural centre, Iris Mostegel, agreed that cultural events such as this were usually attended only by the elite. The hope, she said, was that art would be available for everybody. It was, she said, a public right to taste fine arts, even in an underground Metro station.
Metro chairman Magdy Azab said the company was ready to sponsor such events, believing that art was the means to link children from all over the world—regardless of language, culture and tradition. “These young people with special needs and white hearts have no offensive desires or evil-minded thoughts,” he said. He called “City of Peace” an apt title.
The Austrian ambassador said the differences between nations enriched the human experiment. “Two young Austrian artists with special needs came especially to Egypt to take part—with their Egyptian counterparts—in creating a piece of art. Some people may say they are ‘different’. But I would say they are ‘special’… This experiment is a step forward towards these children, which reveals the hidden beauty in this society. When you see the two murals, you will change your thoughts about those special children.”
The formal speeches were followed by a surprise visit from Egyptian caricaturist Mustafa Hussein. By that time a large crowd had gathered. As the murals were unveiled there was a round of applause.
Clemens Mantl the Austrian minister deputy head of mission director cultural forum, said that the venue was unusual, but that all sides had cooperated to ensure its success. “It was a difficult idea, but it is totally new at the same time,” he said. “By this event, we move our world a new step forward, and this success will encourage us to put on another event such as the one today.”