Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A talented young artist

A seven-year-old boy is helping his family make a living by drawing portraits on the street, writes Mai Samih

A talented young artist
A talented young artist
Al-Ahram Weekly

In Sudan Street, near Cairo University, a seven-year-old boy called Moaz draws the faces of University students for LE5 a time. He sits on the stairs leading to the metro station pedestrian bridge, beside the gates of the Faculty of Mass Communications.

He can barely be seen in the crowded place, full of street vendors and students all day long. He is surrounded by students most of the time and takes his time to draw the faces of his young customers. He orders them around until they take up the pose he thinks is most suitable then starts drawing them with his worn-out pencils and felt-tip pens in a small drawing book. When he finishes a drawing, he tears the page out and gives it to his customer.

The rest of the book carries what is left of the masterpieces that he has not sold, the ones for which there were no customers. On the other side of the pedestrian bridge sits his grandmother. She sells paper tissues. 

Moaz’s grandmother is a 64-year-old widow who has been sitting in this place for about two years, trying to support her family of two sons, two daughters and three grandchildren. She sits behind a wooden fruit box, the paper tissues stacked on it, and her medical metal cane resting nearby.

Moaz Ahmed is his full name, and he is a second-year elementary school student. He explained how he started his job. “I draw most of my drawings here, as I don’t always have the chance to draw at school. When my teacher asks everyone in the class to draw, I start to draw like the others. When I do not have my drawing book with me, I draw for the other kids at school.

“I like to draw faces the most. I know how to draw other objects, like cars and trees as well, but drawing faces is my favourite,” he said. It began when a student asked him to draw her and then she told other students that he draws well and other students came for a portrait too.

He uses the simplest materials for his drawings, with some help from his customers the students. “I use a pencil when I start, and then I use colours,” he said.

“The university girls buy him the drawing books, the pencils, and the felt-tip pens that he uses to draw. May God bless them,” said his grandmother.

“I depend on myself to earn a living selling paper tissues. I only get LE320 a month as my late husband’s pension given to me by the government, the so-called ‘Al-Sadat pension’ named after the former president. This is the only sum of money I get from the government. I pay my rent with it and the electricity bill. It took me five years after my husband died to get this pension because of the red tape. One government employee insisted that I give him a document to prove that I have no insurance anywhere else. I can’t work cleaning homes anymore as I am too old. I have to sit here and sell tissues to make ends meet,” she said.

“Moaz is my grandchild. His mother, my youngest daughter, was divorced from his father and remarried, and she now lives in her new husband’s house. Moaz’s father also remarried. Moaz and two of his three siblings, one brother and two sisters, have been living with me, and I have bought them up. Now only Moaz and his sister live with me. The elder brother and sister live with their father now,” his grandmother said.

It was by chance that Moaz’s grandmother discovered his skill in drawing. “Moaz came here with me from the time I started to sit here, because I was afraid to leave him at home by himself. He started to play and draw on some paper and a pencil I left for him to keep him busy when he was sitting next to me.

“I was surprised when two years ago I found Moaz could draw the university buildings and that he could draw faces. He started to draw me when I was sitting selling paper tissues. Then he started to draw the girls from the university. Passers-by asked him to draw them and he asked them to stand still for a few minutes while he drew them. Now they give him LE5 or LE10, or whatever they want to give, and take the drawings. He sells the pictures as a job that supports his family.”

With the money he gets from selling his drawings, Moaz helps his grandmother buy her medicine and supports his siblings. He also saves up to pay for his school fees.

“I have been selling tissues for two years now. I used to clean people’s homes, but after an accident that resulted in burning my hand I could no longer carry anything or do anything like I used to,” said the grandmother.

“My husband died 15 years ago and left the responsibility of raising two boys and two girls to me. One of my sons is a taxi driver, and the other one sometimes works as a house decorator, but he has no permanent job.”

Moaz, according to his grandmother, is also talented at drawing objects, not just faces. “He can draw many things besides faces — a bedroom, a living room, almost anything. A member of a well-known charity saw how Moaz could draw and convinced me to send him with him to their Dokki branch in Giza to take advanced drawing lessons. A young man and a young lady came to take him twice by car from the organisation.”

She continued, “People asked whether I was afraid he would get lost. But I said he would be safe.” Members of the charity asked Moaz to save the drawings he drew so they could organise an exhibition. “But of course as soon as he draws a portrait he sells it. This is why he has not been able to collect a lot of drawings until now.”

Moaz’s grandmother walks slowly due to her medical condition. When people offer her assistance in going up or down the long stairs leading to the metro station, she insists on walking by herself, taking them step by step. “I start my day at 12 and work until around five in the afternoon. Then I cross the pedestrian bridge to get to the other side of the tracks and take a tuk-tuk home,” she said.

Her grandson does not accept money from anyone either, unless it is for a drawing he has drawn for them. He also helps to financially support his family so that he is not a burden on his elderly grandmother.

“I would like to continue drawing,” said Moaz. “I would like to learn how to paint other images better as well. One day I would like to join the Faculty of Applied Arts at Cairo University and graduate from it.”

“I would like to live to see Moaz become a famous artist. Of course, I wish I had a bigger pension so I could support my family. If I had had a bigger pension, I would not have had to take to the streets like I have today. I have no other choice as I need the money to buy medicine and support my family,” said the grandmother.

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