Mustafa Chawala is a student, artist and resident of Abu Dhabi, UAE. While pursuing his education at Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah, Nairobi, Mustafa also holds a deep-rooted passion for sketching and has had the opportunity to showcase his work in three exhibitions, most recently at Dubai Art World 2022. In this article, we look at how he strives to continually hone his skills as an artist. 

It was close to midnight but Mustafa had lost track of time as he applied the finishing touches to his sketch. Despite the late hour, his desire for perfection encouraged him to complete what he had started four hours ago. ‘Before I discovered sketching, the late nights would either be before an exam or on a Saturday night, but now it is different. Now it is more satisfying,’ says Mustafa as he shares snippets from his journey as an artist.  

Mustafa has worked on numerous wildlife sketches as well

At Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah, the Dawoodi Bohras’ renowned educational institution, Mustafa has the opportunity to interact with students from different parts of the world who have an affinity for art. However, growing academic responsibilities and a demanding schedule forced his artistic ventures to take a back seat. ‘I had a tendency to become engrossed in my sketches for hours on end. In my early years at Aljamea, I could not concentrate fully on sketching because managing my time became an issue.’ This, however, did not deter him and he took it upon himself to better manage his time so that he would be able to produce an original artwork worthy of being presented to His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, head of the Dawoodi Bohra community. He was in his third year when, during one of Syedna’s visits, Mustafa had the chance to present him with a sketch of a ship. Syedna graciously accepted it and appreciated his work. Mustafa was delighted, and it motivated him to put more effort into his sketching.

Eight years later, Mustafa is a committed student of realism, the accurate, detailed, unembellished depiction of nature or of contemporary life. He is particularly proud of a sketch he made of Jackie Chan which took him over 100 hours to complete; a testimony to his dedication. A few of his other sketches have been exhibited by Radiant Arts, a platform for community artists from across the world to showcase their artistic talents and gain exposure.

The Jackie Chan sketch which took Mustafa 100 hours to complete.

Mustafa believes that, in the initial stage, artists should focus more on creating and sharing their work rather than perfection. “Improvement will follow through rigorous practice but, if you are not taking the time to practice, you cannot expect your skills to grow.” 

‘I am inspired by the counsel of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib, who stated: A person’s worth is determined by what he does best. I feel blessed to have already found what I do best. Hopefully, it will be worth my while,’ shares Mustafa. Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work has also made an impression on him. It taught him about the grinding process of creating art and the importance of sharing it with the world. The Dubai Art Festival provided him with an excellent experience in that respect. ‘Participating in Art exhibitions has taught me how to present myself to the public as an artist.’ Meeting new artists at the exhibition and seeing how they express their skills motivated Mustafa to step out of his comfort zone and push his boundaries. Those moments when people stood to praise his work and talk to him about his sketches were ‘truly empowering.’

Mustafa at the Dubai Art World 2022

When asked what had driven him to participate in three exhibitions, Mustafa said, ‘My friends and family appreciated my work and motivated me to share my sketches with others. One day I received a message asking me how much I was selling my sketch for? That was when I thought that perhaps I should expand my horizons.’  

To young artists and writers, Mustafa’s advice is to embrace criticism and to be consistent. Criticism will shape their art and consistency will help them grow and develop. ‘It is very important to be consistent in whatever you do in life. Sketching has taught me that,’ he added.

A sketch of al-Jami al-Aqmar’s facade in Cairo, Egypt.

‘Social media is a great platform to share work and receive constructive criticism in return,’ he said. ‘Rather than spending your time scrolling through irrelevant posts, why not spend your time getting something productive out of it?’