Art can never be suppressed; it always manages to seep through. This is exactly what happened to Muhammad Jawad Ahmed Jan – a Lyari-based sketch artist who has lately shot to fame on social media.
Housed in one of the maze-like, twisted alleyways of Lyari’s Baghdadi locality – an area that used to be fraught with gang wars and political clashes and which many still fear to enter – is Jawad’s cramped-up, two-storey shop, where he puts his talent to canvas every day.
Having only done matriculation, Jawad, 17, has been into portrait sketching for almost five years but desires to enrol into a professional art school now. However, the lack of a proper institution, coupled with the fact that schools charge sky-high fees, hinders him from going ahead with his dreams.
Ever since childhood, Jawad has remained glued to the sketch board, he tells me, with his eyes fixated upon my camera as we stand around the street corner with two of his mentors. A friend leans in and tells him in Balochi to talk about “that famous Van Gogh and Paris, ‘the city of art’” before I record his interview.
Brother to seven siblings, it is only Jawad who showed an inclination towards art, something that made his father Jan Muhammad – a painter himself – quite happy. “My father commended my work and determination and brought me to the shop,” he says. The world then became an oyster for him, albeit a tiny one at first, for there was much for him to learn and the place was not frequented much by potential buyers.
The teen’s father remains his inspiration to this day; it even shows in the way Jawad and his friends talk about him, with reverence. Among the artworks lined on both walls – the paint of which is now hidden by chalk, paint, and crayon marks – hang pieces made by Jan Muhammad, in central positions, since they are his prized possessions.
“I have complete support from my family and friends to pursue my goal of a career in arts,” he states with fondness, eyes sparkling in merriment.
By now, Jawad is visibly excited, the same way any person is when discussing their passion after they find someone willing to listen to them. He brings out a rendering of boxer Muhammad Ali made by his father, alongside some that he made himself – of Amitabh Bachchan, Nana Patekar, AR Rahman, and Morgan Freeman.
It was Freeman’s sketch that recently ricocheted Jawad to popularity on social media. It is so realistically done that it makes the viewer feel like they’re in the legendary actor’s presence. I ask him about the importance of the faces he keeps as his muses.
“To be honest, it doesn’t matter to me whose face it is when I’m drawing. The more crucial factors are the soul of an image, the shades and depth level, and posture,” Jawad elucidated. If it catches his fancy, he proceeds to replicate the picture in his style.
It seemed as if there’s something more to his version of Freeman.
“I’ve watched his movies. I saw Shawshank Redemption, but I really like Lucy. I’m just awed by the way he speaks… it’s so commanding yet polite. It’s crisp and clear but soft. It’s amazing!,” noted Jawad, stressing that that’s what impressed him.
Needless to say, the picture speaks for itself but only needed a boost, which Jawad’s friends provided. “Our team posted the artwork on social media because we believe his talent needs to be promoted,” Hasil Murad, a social activist and one of his friends, told me.
The five-year training has done wonders in honing Jawad’s flair. “I joined at the same time as he did, but he has improved so much that he even teaches us sometimes. He also does brilliant calligraphy,” Nadeem Shehzai, a fellow pupil, mentioned.
Jawad is incredibly lucky too; apart from having his father guide him in sketching, Hasan Asif – his mentor – also goes out of the way to keep the budding artist motivated. A very humble guy himself, Asif told me that Jawad “had inherited his father’s gift for art” and that “he is a very fast learner”.
What does the future hold for Jawad then?
The determined youth has big goals. He thinks that Lyari has burgeoning, untapped talent – apart from just football and boxing – that the world needs to see and he, therefore, intends to work to bring it to the limelight.
The aspiring teen wants to go abroad and meet renowned artists, musicians, and actors. He thinks he can continue his education on the way, learning from experienced people, absorbing changes of scenery, and expanding his mind – but mainly making “his Pakistan proud”.
Nonetheless, his ambitions are all but close, since he doesn’t have adequate resources to fulfil his dreams. He charges Rs. 3,000-5,000 apiece for sketches – depending on whether they are replicated from photographs or created anew – but only one or two clients happen to visit his shop in a month, at most.
In spite of this, Jawad doesn’t lose hope. He wishes for the government to help Pakistani people, especially those from Lyari, to further advance their talents and make a name in the world. Who knows, his prayers might come true sooner than he thinks.