By: Salwa Samir
CAIRO, May 15, 2018 - Farafra Oasis is in Egypt's western desert, some 627 kilometres from Cairo. The oasis and its surrounding area of white desert are special for people who love safari tourism. They are an open museum and they provide and an opportunity to study the desert environments, geographical phenomena, archaeological excavations and wildlife.
The area contains pre-historic monuments, including a collection of rare tombs and caves, the remains of ancient mummies and carved inscriptions. It has steep hills, beautiful sand dunes and rare geological formations consisting of snow-white chalk columns shaped by the wind.
To highlight the natural beauty of Farafra, the customs and traditions of its people, one of the residents, Badr Abdel-Moghni, turned his vast house into a museum, naming it Farafra Museum. It is one of the most important attractions for locals and foreigners alike.
"I was born in the oasis and I love Farafra. I want to express my love for it and I do so through art. I use the available raw materials to produce my works, whether they are made of coloured sand, sandstone, chalk, or palm wood. Our oasis is rich in good raw materials that have not yet been exploited,” said Abdel-Moghni, who used to teach geography but took up art to try and do justice to the beauty of Farafra.
The museum was established in 1992. It was built of sandstone, which is the same as the ground rock of the oasis. It was built in the same style as the old houses.
It contains many paintings that reflect life in Farafra. There are figures made of clay and sculptures made of sandstone.
"I came up with this idea some 25 years ago, when I met a foreign tourist who admired the traditional art of the oasis. From then on, I collected my works in a small house I rented in the middle of the oasis. The foreigners began to visit it and as time passed, the numbers grew, so I had to buy a bigger house to accommodate everyone. I tried to keep the oasis away from the tide of urbanisation, which changes the shape of life and the folklore of the people,” Abdel-Moghni told the Egyptian Mail by phone.
“I use sand, palm wood, sandstone, clay and other nature elements in my paintings and artworks.”
The main pursuits of the people of Farafra are the making of wickerwork products, locks and olive presses. Examples of these items are on display at the museum. The artist has depicted the whole olive-pressing process, from drying the olives, to placing them in burlap and squeezing them, to collecting the oil produced and heating it in a pottery vessel, before storing it.
The daily life of women is also depicted by the artist. There are small-sized statues showing women making bread: grinding the grain, kneading and preparing the dough and placing it in the oven.
All the works of art reflect reality and some of the works focus on wedding customs.
“One of my oil paintings is about “henna night”, which is when the bride has parts of her body decorated in henna designs. This is also the night that the groom goes to the oasis’ barber, with his friends.”
Another painting shows the local band, with its drummers, flutists and singers performing in front of the bride’s home, surrounded by matrons carrying the bride’s household goods.
The museum has murals engraved on all its walls, which tell the story of the trips made into the desert by the people of the oasis and which show them grazing their herds and riding their camels.