Doha, Qatar – Michael Conjusta, a Doha-based freelance artist was going about his day one August afternoon when he received an unexpected WhatsApp message with an offer to paint graffiti murals at football stadiums during the FIFA 2022 World Cup.
The message had come from a member of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), the official tournament organisers.
Stunned, Conjusta replied excitedly, “Yes! Of course.”
The recommendation for the task, he soon found out, had come from Qatar’s Ministry Of Culture, Arts And Heritage.
“It made me so happy [that] the ministry of people acknowledged my work,” the 44-year-old interior decorator and painter from the Philippines told Al Jazeera. “I mean, there are all these artists here in Doha … good artists of different nationalities. But I was one of the few people they chose … it’s a big pleasure for me.”
Conjusta, who has been living in Doha since 1998, had initially thought of volunteering for the tournament before it began but figured the stress would be a “big headache” to add to his continuing work commitments.
However, when the offer from the Supreme Committee came, it was an opportunity he “simply could not decline”.
Conjusta’s work has been one of the many side attractions integrated into the Qatar 2022 World Cup, which is drawing to a close. The tournament, the first edition to be held in the Middle East, has provided many colourful surprises on and off the pitch.
Working near the entrance gates, the artist makes his murals on canvas using acrylic paint.
The murals are typically a sketch of teams playing on the day, usually with a national flag or a unique cultural marker such as a national animal.
To keep things fresh, the Filipino artist tries to pay homage to the tournament by thinking up new ideas for different games. In one instance, he drew an illustration of the World Cup mascot Laeeb.
Conjusta’s work can also be found along the Corniche – a waterfront promenade and major tourist spot in central Doha to which he was assigned on non-match days.
The tasks have so far been time-sensitive, with the artist having to complete murals in three to four hours. This gruelling schedule has left Conjusta with no time or energy, he said, to be at any of the games happening only a few hundred metres away from where he works, to watch the magic of the likes of Argentina’s Lionel Messi and French ace Kylian Mbappe.
“After people go inside the stadium, I prepare to go home and rest … and avoid the rush at the metro,” Conjusta, who lives in the Abu Hamour neighbourhood of Doha, said.
Nevertheless, the past month has been “really worth it”, he said, as “lots of spectators took my number, including many local Qataris for future projects”.
“People will pass by while I’m working and want to take pictures, tagging me on Instagram and writing really kind things,” he added.
Supporting his family
Aside from being a notable achievement on his resume, the World Cup project has supplemented Conjusta’s income.
His move to Qatar more than 23 years ago after being forced to drop out of architecture school, had been primarily to help support his family of seven back in the Philippines.
“Acrylic painting on canvasses was just a hobby, a passion. But now I’m earning for that hobby … it helps me get extra money to provide for my family,” Conjusta, the youngest of six siblings, said.
“Three of them [siblings] are diabetic with one on insulin … which costs more than 1000 riyals ($275) a month. My father passed away when I was two, so I support my mother, too.”
Since then, the Filipino artist has worked numerous jobs including decorating homes, malls and government properties, and now thinks of Doha as his second home.
“For the longest time I was not sure where my life was going … but when I look back at what I have achieved in the past 24 years till today, it has been an amazing journey,” he said.
“I’m one of those dreamers,” Conjusta said, comparing his life to the World Cup soundtrack “Dreamers” by Jungkook, a member of the K-pop band BTS. “I make it happen, because I believe … through my passion, I can do anything.”