Meet Mahdi Gilbert, the 25-year-old Canadian magician making waves in the world of magic. He practices card manipulation and sleight of hand, a common skill set for a magician, but what sets him apart is his lack of hands.
Standing at four-feet-six inches, Gilbert’s left arm stops at the elbow, and he has an articulated appendage on his right arm. Gilbert was forced to reinvent magic for himself, individually recreating all of the techniques used in his illusions. “I had to become self-sufficient from an early age; there’s (sic) no magic books written for me,” Gilbert said in an interview for the documentary Our Magic.
As a child, he was never exposed to magic, neither live nor on television, but he heard stories about “people called magicians who could do these amazing things”. Despite his lack of access to information about magic, having never visited any magic stores, or read any magic books, Gilbert confidently informed his high school guidance counsellor “I’m going to be a magician.” She asked, “Do you do magic now?” to which he replied “Not yet. But I will.”
Mahdi began seeking out magicians online and on television as a teenager, and soon became a follower of David Blaine. At first he was depressed, thinking that he couldn’t possibly do the things Blaine was doing, but then he discovered Derren Brown, a British mentalist who showed him that there was more to magic than perfect limbs.
“He was doing things by using the mind, talking to people, using memory, psychology, hypnosis, and other techniques. I thought, Oh, wow. I can do something like that,” Mahdi the Magician recalled in an interview.
He began by training his memory and playing tricks on his fellow students, such as memorising their personal information from the school database, and at appropriate moments could tell people information he shouldn’t know, like where they lived.
However, when he was sixteen, Gilbert decided to move away from mental based magic toward more physical conjuring. He bought a deck of cards and a book on card manipulation, but he didn’t tell anyone what he was doing.
“Maybe I’m romanticising it, but I remember that time very fondly, staying up literally all night in the dark, trying to figure stuff out,” Mahdi said. “When I started I had no idea what I was doing. I was experimenting and figuring things out through trial and error. There was a slow evolution. I couldn’t even cut a deck of cards without spilling the deck on the floor.”
Eventually, he mastered shuffling and then began to manipulate the deck in more complex ways. He began to make connections with other magicians through magic shops and his reputation began to grow. In March 2010, Gilbert attended Magic-Con, a magic conference in San Diego, where many famous magicians were in attendance, including David Blaine. Gilbert quickly became the talk of the conference, and his reputation took off. In the seven years since that Magic-Con, Gilbert has gone on to appear on television shows and has traveled to and performed in 18 countries. All the magicians he looked up to and learned from now know his name, and David Blaine has called him, “My inspiration.” **