Egypt's Rafat Wagdy
Earning a living in Egypt as an Egyptian can be daunting. Many, if indeed most Egyptians do not work at a regular company on a regular schedule. They frequently have more than one sources of income in order to meet their living expenses. Tourism is an important source of income for any number of Egyptians, though the majority of those who earn their living in this manner do so indirectly, working in restaurant and shops that cater to tourists and in just about any endeavor that might attract the occasional tourist. Many are really rather interesting people, who have found some sort of niche. They can range from shoeshine people at hotels, to the occasional artist, such as Rafat Wagdy.
I was amazed to watch Rafat Wagdy put the scissor on one end of the black small paper he had in his hand , and with one continuous move, carve the profile of a young girl sitting in the opposite chair, with only a couple of glimpse at her, in just a minute. The type of art can be found elsewhere, certainly outside of Egypt, though usually it is accomplished using a light source to project the silhouette of the subject, requiring the artist to be no artist at all.
Rafat Mahmoud Wagdy, who has become known for his excellence in silhouette arts, began to discovering his love for arts at a very young age. "My parents used to tell me stories about my early childhood when I would become attracted to the color of the toys rather than the toys themselves," said Wagdy. "They say I used to stare at the toys for hours before I would play with them." He added.
As Wagdy grew, he mastered drawing. "I used to draw maps for the teachers who would use them for our classes," said Wagdy. He also enjoyed and excelled in the art classes in his school. Egyptians love art, and its instruction is perhaps seen in Egypt as more important than from children elsewhere. "During break time I used to sit with my art teacher who encouraged me the most. At the end of the year he asked me to paint the well-known Salah El Din El Ayoubi. That painting continues to hand in the school to this day", Wagdy added.
Family, friends and others helped establish his career by asking him to paint them, paying small sums for his early work. "My family encouraged me as long as it was just a hobby," said Wagdy. "However, as a normal middle class family, they did not like the idea of me studying art as a profession, preferring instead that I become educated in a technical skill that might more readily provide a source of income," he added.
Therefore, Wagdy kept his love for art as a hobby. However, "One day a friend helped me by coincidence to paint the actor Omar Sharif, and Farid El Atrash, and these two affected me and gave me many opportunities," said Wagdy. He was then asked to draw the posters of movies which became the advertisements used on the theaters.
In the early 19 70's Wagdy traveled to an exhibition in Paris and there he was attracted to the silhouette arts, which required a great deal of concentration. After studying this art form for two years Wagdy mastered it and began to specialize in the art form. He began by sitting in places such as the El Hussein mosque during Ramadan, and then soon he shared in several exhibitions including one at the Cairo International Exhibition.
"In the Beginning of the 19 80's I turned to practicing silhouette art at tourist sites. My first location was at Sindbad amusement park, but now I work in the Nile City boat in Zamalek (in Cairo) near the Marriott Hotel. I also attend many conferences and work at parties," said Wagdy. "At one of these conferences, I did two profile of Mrs. Suzan Mubarak and one of Minister Fouad Mohy El Din., as well as several other well-known characters," added Wagdy.
Wagdy talked about silhouette with a passionate voice. He explained that it needs constant practice, patience and high sensitivity. "You capture a moment with a few glimpse, and any slight mistake can be noticed," said Wagdy. I use to paint charcoal drawings as well, but these days I strictly work with silhouettes, which I have become known for," added Wagdy.
Today, Wagdy successfully earns his living working as an artist in the tourist industry, and where else can a regular tourist go to have an artist work the same magic he has for first ladies and move stars. According to official records, tourism accounts for only about two percent of Egypt's total economy, but with all of its spin-offs, including small operators such as Mr. Wagdy, it actually accounts for some 10% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product).