CAIRO - 2 July 2018: Twenty-five-year-old Ahmed Mustafa never imagined that his passion for drawing in general and for cartooning in particular could take his name to global fame one day, and that he would be regarded as one of the most important Egyptian and Arab cartoonists. He was recently given the title “the most influential artist in the Arab World in 2018. Egypt Today had the advantage of meeting the young artist for an exclusive interview to inquire about his journey in this enchanting world, his most significant works, and his vision for the future of the art of cartoons and caricatures in the Arab World.
The beginning.. Just a hobby
How did you discover your talent?
Ahmed says: I spent my childhood years in Alexandria, and drawing was just a hobby for me at the time. My drawings were average, nothing was extraordinary there, just like any ordinary child trying to discover his true talent while he could actually be more in something else. However, I always and from an early age looked at cartooning and caricaturing as a special art, and I was particularly fond of the caricatures of great Egyptian artists and those in magazines and newspapers, and I tried to learn from them all the time. A caricature is not a drawing, but a deep and complex idea especially if it was not accompanied by a written commentary or illustration to the drawing.
Who is your role model in this field?
I have many, especially that my father is an avid reader of newspapers so you can always find some in our house. No matter how reality has changed and how the internet has replaced printed newspapers, but these great figures belong to a generation with a special culture. I specially loved the cartoons of Salah Jahin, Abd el-Monem Rakha, Alexander Saroukhan, and of course Mustafa Hussein. And on the global level, my role model is Iranian artist Arash Foroughi.
Can any talented painter become a caricaturist?
Definitely not. Creating a caricature needs an artist who has a special vision and a different mode of expression in addition to a vast culture, the ability to express an idea by drawing rather than by words, and this is the genius of cartoons, that even an illiterate person can understand them, and here lies the challenge.
How could you turn your talent into a profession?
I learned and practiced a lot, and I’m still learning. I asked a lot of questions to anyone who works in the field, and I asked the great artists who are still alive a lot of questions about the details of their works, and they really helped me a lot. With the great advances in technology, I had the ambition to offer a different art and I started to learn through graphic tablet programs.
The trash was where my drawings ended up one day
What was your point of departure to the world of fame as a caricaturist?
At the beginning, I published my works on my personal Facebook page and I monitored people’s reactions, and I found they liked my works a lot and that they started to circulate them widely. One day I received a call from a Lebanese journalist who asked me to publish my works in the Kuwaiti newspaper Public Opinion, especially the sports edition, and that’s what happened. Yet I still had the ambition that caricature would one day become more than just a hobby for me, but rather a profession and a job because I believe that extreme local popularity is the way to global popularity, that’s why publishing in Egyptian newspapers was crucial for me.
So what did you do?
The experience was a very challenging one, and one day I completely lost hope that the kind of art I was offering could be my future. After I decided to move to Cairo to find a publisher for my works, I visited to a huge newspaper where I met a cartoonist who took a look at my works and who asked me about the kind of tools I used in creating them, and when I told him that I use Digital Art which is a tool well-acknowledged and well-used in the west, he said that he cannot acknowledge this kind of work because it has to be created with pen and paper and not with electronic tools. I argued back with him saying that art cannot be evaluated by the kind of tools that were used in creating it, but rather by its value because drawing or painting can be done with countless tools, for some paint on water, some on sand and some on glass and each has their own style. He responded to this by telling me that a job that could befit me would be in an advertising agency, and at that moment all the hopes I carried from Alexandria to Cairo took wing and I felt extremely frustrated, and I even told myself that I was not going to think of professionality ever again, and that I’d return to Alexandrian and look for a job. After I left his office, I threw my drawings in the trash can.
What happened afterwards?
A journalist in the same institution saw me in a state of utter despair, and he asked me if I was the one who made these drawings. I said yes, so he asked why I was throwing them, and he took them out of the trash can and told me to follow him, and I did. He took me to the office of the editor-in-chief and told him that I was a young artist with a great talent. The editor-in-chief took a look at my works and seemed amused and content by it, and he agreed that we should cooperate. And this was how my first publication came into being. I received a call later on from Nabil al-Seginy, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Al Ahram, and he told me that my work was great and that he and his colleagues admire it a lot and that I should pay him a visit. So I did, and he presented me to the editor-in-chief of Al Ahram Al Arabi magazine where I started publishing my works. In the special annual issue, I drew 30 characters which made the issue record the highest sales figures in the history of the magazine. I also published in Rose al Yusuf.
The development of the art of caricature
Do you think that the art of caricature can still compete in the world of social media end electronic journalism?
Yes, because like any other art, it has to cope with changes in technology and in audiences so it could stay influential. On the technological level, there are new programs which can help a caricaturist enhance his work, such as Digital Art. On the level of the audience, the competition has become fierce and it is very challenging for a caricaturist to convey his message in a swift, smart and strong way in a world where a lot of changes happen in a fraction of a second, so an artist has to cope with such speed and to even be quicker than it.
How much time does it take to finish one portrait? And what are the most difficult facial features that you come across?
It takes about 8 hours to finish a portrait, and the most challenging facial features are those of elderly people because of their many details like wrinkles.
The most influential artist in 2018
What are the most significant honours that you have received, and the most notable international exhibitions that you have contributed to?
I contributed to many international cartoon exhibitions in Cyprus, Ukraine, Morocco, Indonesia and Croatia, in addition to the Fifth International Caricature Forum in which 76 countries participated. The most important honours I received was the title “the most influential artist in the Arab World in 2018” among 30 other Arab influential figures each in their own field. I also received honours from the Ministry of Youth and Sports and from the Ministry of Culture, as Minister of Culture Inas Abd el-Dayim inaugurated my recent exhibition and told me that the exhibition rooms of the ministry will host my works for free. Also, I’m preparing right now for a new exhibition for my works in Paris.
What are your future ambitions?
I dream to be one of the world’s finest caricaturists, and to be a goodwill ambassador for Egypt because many of of my fans are foreigners. I also wish to receive an honours from President Sisi as a young artist with talent, and there are many of us out there and many Egyptian role models in many fields. Creativity might not be a way to make money, but it is certainly a means of communication and expression and something that helps make the world a better place.