All interviews were conducted in Arabic and then translated (imperfectly) by me. And a picture of their work will be added tomorrow!
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Ali and Hussein: Picture Perfect
In many ways, Hussein Dawoud is like any average 12-year-old. He plays football and computer games. His favorite school subject is English. He enjoys spending time with his best friend. But he and his older brother Ali attract an above-average crowd every Friday at Souk Jara by simply doing what they do best: creating works of art.
Painted scenes of Bedouin camps, crowded marketplaces and green meadows are propped up against a wall behind Ali, 13 and his brother Hussein, 12, as they paint on black velvet on the outskirts of Souk Jara. Here they can be found every Friday, accompanied by their father, who is also an artist. The children are not there to buy trinkets or cotton candy like other people their age. They are there to work.
“It really stops you in your tracks,” said Hayat Abu Hijleh, 19, in response to the boys’ artwork. “Looking at their paintings, you’d never guess they were done by a 12-year old or a 13-year-old. You’d think they were done by someone who had been in the business for a long time. “
According to Ali and Hussein, however, they were both born into the business. “It was inherited,” said Ali, putting the finishing touches on a natural landscape. Both of their parents draw, and their paternal uncles, grandfather and great-grandfather have all made their living as painters in Baghdad.
“My grandfather opened the first gallery in Baghdad,” said the boys’ father, Muhhnad Abu Ali. “A lot of people ask me what school they learned to draw in,” he added, “But it wasn’t a school, it was all from me.”
The boys’ schooling was interrupted when the family left Baghdad in 2006. “I’m going into seventh grade, but I’m supposed to be going into eighth,” said Ali. “When we first came to Jordan, Iraqis couldn’t go to school without a residency permit.”
The boys are now enrolled in a school in Sweileh near their home, where the family of painters sells their work. “Mostly we draw nature, camels… depending on what’s in demand, said Hussein. Although art has become a profession for them, both boys still like to draw in their free time.
When asked who the better artist is, Ali does not hesitate. “I am. I’ve been drawing for longer and have tried more things than he has.” Hussein does not disagree with his older brother. Last year he may have received 95 per cent in art class, but Ali scored a 99.
“Besides,” adds Ali, “there is a saying that says a day older is like a year older.”
Ali and Hussein’s little sister does not draw. “Not yet,” said Ali, laughing. “She’s only four.” Then again, Ali and Hussein started drawing when they were five and six years old respectively. Both boys say they would “of course” want to grow up to be painters and cannot think of anything else they would want to do.
“I congratulate and give my respects to their father,” said Nicholas Khouri, who sells accessories at a booth in Souk Jara. Every Friday, Khouri takes some time to watch Ali and Hussein at work. “I watch this 12 year old and I feel bad because I’m 23 years old and I still don’t know what I want or what I can do. But at least they know.”
“Of course, I’m very proud of them,” said their father, gesturing with his paint brush. “I’m proud of them and I’m proud of myself for raising such boys. Every father like me should be proud of his children.”