The world is a perpetual caricature of itself; at every moment it is the mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending to be.
What's natural is beautiful, and when you're not yourself anymore, you become a caricature. This was once said by George Santayana, American philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist.
Caricature is an art form where the caricaturist creates a picture, description, or imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect. The art has long been applied to criticise and to highlight different political and social issues in ironic but effective ways.
Esmail al-Agha is a caricaturist and a chef from Syria. He loves his art so much so that he calls it his soul. The expatriate has earned good name as a caricaturist both in Syria and Qatar. He continues to use his talent to highlight different social issues in a funny way without annoying people.
Esmail, who is a chef at Century Hotel, has been drawing funny sketches of people since he was 10. “Whenever I was angry with some, I would draw his or her caricature in the childhood. With every passing year, I continued to improve upon my art. One of my uncles was an artist. He used to close himself in his room while painting. I would peep into his room from the window. One day he noticed me and asked me to come in and started teaching me how to draw and paint. I have learnt a lot from my uncle and gradually built an emotional bonding with him.”
The Syrian has got no formal education as a caricaturist. “Besides following my uncle, I obtained no formal art education. I started watching videos about how to make caricatures. I, however, have recently done online certification and got training from Al Jazeera Academy learning graphic designs and animation.”
The caricaturist has so far taken part in many exhibitions and competitions. In Qatar, he was selected as one of the 20 Arab caricature artists in 2013. “I attended an online competition held in Spain. I had remained Syrian International Caricaturist for three consecutive years. I have worked with Syrian Day, an online newspaper in my country and also with some TV channels.”
Esmail moved to Doha in 2007 to work as a chef. He is good at Syrian and Lebanese cuisine. “I cook to sustain my life but I will keep my art of caricature alive. For me food itself is also a form of art. Cooking, preparing food, and then presenting it involves art. The artistic elements are common things in cooking and caricaturing. As for my culinary experience, I am trying to add something modern in the traditional food from Syrian and Lebanon.”
When asked what he enjoys more, the caricaturist said that it was very difficult to point out. “As I said, both involve art in one form or another. Cooking food is my heart but caricature is my soul. Both are important, food for my job and caricature for my passion.”
Regarding a question about how people react to his caricatures, Esmail said: “Initially, it was very difficult not to make people angry. People used to get offended with me. For me, caricaturing people is like three signal lights – red, orange and green. Red is out of question and green is okay. I like orange. I caricature people but in a funny way not to offend them.”
As far as the subject matter of his caricatures, the artist chooses to highlight social issues more. “Initially, I used to draw caricatures hitting different political issues. I have reached the conclusion that nothing in politics is going to change. I have started focusing on social issues. If you present some issue in a funny way, people will accept and understand it. The best places for me to have ideas for caricaturing are streets.
“Creating an art piece is always a half way story. We need people to understand and appreciate our art to complete the story.”
The Syrian artist has learned new techniques after coming to Qatar. “In the beginning, I used to draw in black and white. I learnt how to colour the caricatures in Doha. I started using digital tools to caricature here. I have also learnt from some established Qatari caricaturists. There is more appreciation for artistic creations in this country.”
Speaking about his plans for the future, Esmail said: “I have been showcasing my artwork on different social media platforms and I want to highlight it through a newspaper or a TV channel in Qatar. I also want to create an animation cartoon movie for my artist uncle whose death has emotionally affected me. I have already created a piece as my signature for my late uncle.”