Thirteen-year-old Muhammad Mahmoud Quraiqe managed to keep smiling as Israel attacked Gaza this summer. Despite the pervasive fear, Muhammad focused on painting faces, bringing cheer to many children as he turned them into clowns.
A small room in his family’s two-story home serves as his studio. His work demonstrates that he is a versatile artist.
Having drawn pictures of iconic Palestinian political leaders such as Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Muhammad has had no shortage of commissions. He is regularly asked to make portraits of local people in Gaza, who call him Abu Dahka Jnan, the one with the most cheerful smile.
Muhammad gets paid for his work but says that he prefers to paint and draw landscapes and nature, rather than portraits.
Such preferences are not stopping him from planning an attempt to break a world record. Muhammad wishes to enter the Guinness Book of Records for the highest number of portraits drawn over one week. He has already applied to do so over the Internet.
Muhammad and his family had to leave their home during the summer. Some of the family, including Muhammad, took refuge in al-Shifa, the largest referral hospital in Gaza. His elder brother Malek stayed in an office near the hospital.
Along with Malek, Muhammad managed to leave Gaza for Tunisia after thirty days of the Israeli offensive.
Muhammad had been invited to take part in an art festival in Tunis.
“We were determined to travel,” Malek said. But actually reaching their destination was an ordeal.
Although they obtained passports and visas with assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the brothers had no funding for their trip.
Neither had luggage nor money. There, they waited for two days amid intensive Israeli shelling.
Eventually, a Palestinian-Egyptian woman helped them out. They were able to travel to Cairo International Airport and then fly to Tunis.
Muhammad is fond of using charcoal and oil paints in his work. He is seeking to learn more about particular techniques by watching YouTube videos.
Muhammad wishes to keep his options open. He may study something other than art at university, he says.
For now, though, he has to concentrate on one thing: drawing a portrait of his latest client.
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.