Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Renaissance man in the making

Youths who create art use their preferred medium—whether writing, singing, poetry or painting—to express their feelings. Art also can simply be a constructive way to fill time, as it is for the young Gazan artist Ahmed Elhams.

Ahmed, a 17-year-old high school student, discovered his drawing talent two years ago. He used to draw only occasionally until one day he created a charcoal portrait that, he says, was “surprisingly really good.” He worked to perfect his skill, and ultimately entered a UN competition that earned him third place.

What captured my attention the first time I saw Ahmed’s third-place-winner portrait was his rendering of wrinkles. At first glance, you see an old man. As you look closer, you see a vast network of wrinkles that make you think, “How much patience the artist must have!”

Ahmed also is developing his painting skills. For example, he used materials such as glue and glitter to create the image of the great Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish. At first, Ahmed wasn’t sure if he had the nerve to display this unusual way of painting, but as you can see, he nailed it!

Another type of art Ahmed excels at is special effects (cinematic) makeup. Because he likes to create this type of art with an audience, he recently demonstrated SFX makeup on volunteers at the Gaza seaport.

Ahmed says, “Whenever I discover a new type of art, I like to know everything about it. I keep practicing it until I perfect it. Then, I turn to something new to learn.” He learns his new techniques through YouTube. “I don’t depend on people to teach me,” he explains.  Ahmed notes that if the materials he needs are not available in Gaza, he tries to find substitutes. “My joy is learning something I love, and the unavailability of the materials doesn’t stop me.”

He adds that because drawing takes a lot of concentration, he takes a break when he feels sad because being distracted keeps him from producing to his satisfaction. But when he is in the mood, creating art brings him great joy. “There is an indescribable feeling that makes me grab a pen and a paper to draw,” he explains. “It just pushes me forward to be more productive, more creative.”

Supporting other budding artists also is important to Ahmed. One of them is Bashar Eldaya, also 17. Bashar is a student at the same school and their shared passion is what unites them in friendship. Bashar even learned how to do glue-and-glitter paintings from Ahmed, and they created a painting of deceased Palestinian President Yasser Arafat together at an event.

These two young artists share a dream: being sought after for their autographs on the streets someday. “I don’t care about the rest of the world,” Ahmed says. “I want it to happen here, in Gaza!”

Unfortunately, Ahmed now is in his final year of high school, called tawjihi, and he needs to focus on his studies to get the high marks that will help him go to university abroad. This, he says, requires him to abandon drawing for a year to focus on school. But while he hopes his future will include creating art in an international location, Ahmed insists he will never turn his back on Palestine. As he wrote on his Facebook page, “Despite oppression, suffocation and pain, I won’t let go of any paint brush that speaks of Palestine.”

Mentor: Mimi Kirk

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