El-Shark was born in the village of Zawyat Sultan, Minya governorate, Upper Egypt, on 29 May 1949.
He was the eldest son of the village butcher, and like his siblings he was expected to join the family business.
In fact, El-Shark’s interest was considered odd in his community. It was only when he became famous for works admired internationally that the people in his village began recognising his talent.
El-Shark did not have any academic education and learned art by himself. It is due to his self-taught trajectory that he kept calling his art “primitive.” He used to take a wrapping paper from his father’s shop to use it as canvas for his artwork.
He drew inspiration from his home village Zawyat Sultan which is known for being extremely rich in archaeological finds and historical sites. In one of his interviews, El-Shark said, “The village I live in is my palette, the mountains are my palette.”
The village and surrounding areas are replete with antiquities dating back to the Pharaonic, Greek, and Roman eras. The area is also home to Islamic and Coptic tombs, some of which dating back to over 1,000 years.
El-Shark was the only artist in Egypt who used colours he created himself using a technique crafted by the ancient Egyptians. He drew colours from plants and trees, and according to an interview with the artist published in Reuters in 2019, El-Shark called the process of making colours “very simple. I did not come up with it myself. I took it from the creator’s world, from nature, a little from the mountains and the greenery, and then I made the material that fixes the colours.”
His paintings capture folkloric art, becoming a testimony to the Egyptian culture and traditions. Among his most treasured paintings are those depicting life in the village, complete with mud houses and surrounded by abundant greenery. He also focused on folk stories, such as the tale of the Helaly Tribe and One Thousand and One Nights.
El-Shark was first discovered by a German critic who helped display his art abroad for the first time at a gallery in Stuttgart in 1988. Ever since, his work has been exhibited internationally and is part of permanent displays of world famous museums, including the New Mexico History Museum, France’s Louvre, National Colombian Art Museum, in the Czech Republic, Italy, and Germany, among many other countries.
El-Shark built a museum of his own in Minya. It is one of the main attractions for tourists visiting the area.