Aqeel Qadir is seven years old. He likes to ride his scooter and he loves art. In the last two years, the youngster who lives in Northwest has allowed his imagination to take shape in his artwork of Beyblade toys, and original cartoon characters called "The Spray Cans," which he also splashes across the front of his T-shirts.
"My brain came up with the spray can [concept]," said Aqeel as he showed off several of his art pieces one recent Friday afternoon in March. Each colorful character, which looks like an aerosol spray can, has its own unique facial expression – some with gnarled teeth and others with broad smiles. "I just like to draw stuff," the precocious child said.
Last year, Aqeel started to frame and sell his art; and his father said people were supportive of the pint-sized artist's efforts.
"I didn't even know he had this talent," said Atif Tate, 36, about his son. "He has a natural business sense. He tells me his ideas, and I support them. He wants to sell his art, and sell other people's art." So, on Saturday, March 23, Aqeel will host his first art show at the Eastern Market North Hall in Southeast from 4 to 8 p.m. He will sell T-shirts featuring the spray can characters, and framed and unframed pieces of his original art. His family plans to provide food and entertainment during the four-hour event on Capitol Hill.
"This first show would introduce him into the world of art, and to welcome everyone who wants to offer resources to help him move along the way," said Tate, who runs Inspire BBQ restaurant in Northeast with one of his brothers. "This isn't anything I made him do. It's his talent."
Aqeel's early interest in art may have emerged from an earlier childhood experience, when, in 2010, he lost his mother suddenly when he was four.
"We keep him busy and we keep it positive," said Tate, a father of three. "We don't talk about his mother. He knows she's in a better place." Tate said he counts on a core group of family members and mentors who can surround Aqeel with love.
That group also includes his grandmother, Meauvelle Tate, an educator who previously taught in D.C. Public Schools and other school systems in the region. She now home schools Aqeel along with seven other children, who range in ages from three to 14 years old.
"My mom really connects with him," Tate added.
Art, music and literature make the difference.
"My main reason for having this school is because I won't leave my grandkids in the current school [system] where they're not encouraging the kids to do art," said Meauvelle Tate, a native Washingtonian, who runs the Promo Home School Academy from her home in Northwest. "Artists have such high energy and the system is set up to label them as 'hyper.' It doesn't allow the kids to express themselves [and] develop their talents [because] they don't spend much time on their craft." Part of her curriculum allows the students to focus on the extracurricular subjects.
"I love art the most," said Aqeel, whose educational plan, like the others enrolled in the school, is individualized.
On the same Friday in March after Aqeel showed off his art, June Middleton began to discuss some art concepts as they prepared for the upcoming art show.
"He's amazing," said Middleton, a former art gallery owner visiting from Los Angeles, Calif. "He's such a talented artist, and very creative. I don't think I've dealt with an artist this young."
It's people like Middleton, Tate said he hopes will continue to stay in his son's life, and mentor him as it "takes a village," he said.
"I want him to find his way," Tate said. "By the time he's 10 years old, he'll have his own [business space]. I see art as his instrument, even as he [develops] other interests as he ages. He's a force [unto] himself."