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Of large art and large heart

Tessy Koshy | Updated on March 03, 2021

Big and beautiful: Artist Sacha Jafri took seven months to create the largest painting in the world   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Creator of the world’s biggest art canvas hopes to help children in poorer countries

* From March to September for a period of 28 weeks the Atlantis ballroom was turned into an artist’s studio where Sacha Jafri splashed a melange of hues to bring his artwork alive and tied it with a humanitarian project

* Also described as the modern-day Sistine Chapel, the monumental painting has now been broken down into 70 individually framed pieces to be part of auctions held at the Unesco headquarters in Paris, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Dubai International Financial Centre, Sotheby’s and at The Art Club, London

* Jafri began linking his art with humanitarian projects after a trip to Darfur with George Clooney in 2004, when he was asked to make a poster for Sand and Sorrow, a documentary about Sudan

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The numbers are mind-boggling: 7 months, 20 hours a day, 1,065 paint brushes and 6,300 litres of paint. That’s what it took Dubai-based British artist Sacha Jafri (44) to make the largest art canvas in the world. “I am overwhelmed and excited... and still in disbelief,” he says about setting the Guinness World Record.

Created in the ballroom at Atlantis, The Palm Hotel, in Dubai, UAE, during the Covid-19 lockdown, his Journey of Humanity scales over 17,000 sq ft. “It started like an organic project, when I was stuck in Dubai in February 2020 due to the pandemic. There wasn’t really a plan at first to break a record, but it became something bigger than I thought it would,” he tells BLink.

Hands together: Children from 140 countries contributed their art to ‘Journey of Humanity’   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

From March to September for a period of 28 weeks the Atlantis ballroom was turned into an artist’s studio where the Eton School alumnus splashed a melange of hues to bring the artwork alive and tied it with a humanitarian project. The painting was officially unveiled in Dubai on February 25.

From the auction sale of the painting, Jafri — whose collectors include Barack Obama, George Clooney, Bill Gates and Sachin Tendulkar, among others — aims at raising US$30 million (₹220 crore) to provide children with education, digital connectivity, healthcare and sanitation in the poorest regions of the world. For this he has partnered with UN bodies Unicef, Unesco and UNHCR, non-profit organisations Global Gift Foundation and Dubai Cares and the UAE government. “From the slums of India and Pakistan to the favelas of South America to the refugee camps in Europe, Middle East, Africa and the Far East — through this project we want to give children access to the internet, education, healthcare and sanitation,” he says.

Imagine a child from the slums of India winning a scholarship to study in Columbia University and becoming a human rights lawyer, he exults. “Empowered through education, he is going to give back to his community and that is how we hope to change the world,” Jafri says. Meant for children, his project also incorporated artwork sent in by youngsters from 140 countries.

His painting, as large as two football pitches, is divided into four sections representing the “soul of the Earth, the arrival of nature, humanity and the solar system”. The paintings received from children were all incorporated into six circular portals spread around the four main sections of the painting, which was first displayed on September 29. The Guinness record attempt was first made on September 29, 2020, and the record was officially confirmed on October 21.

On the theme of connection and isolation the project received hundreds of paintings from children every day for months. “The Journey of Humanity has become much more than a painting. It is an initiative for true societal change through the hearts, minds and souls of the children of the world for a better future for humanity,” he says.

Also described as the modern-day Sistine Chapel, the monumental painting has now been broken down into 70 individually framed pieces to be part of auctions held at the Unesco headquarters in Paris, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Dubai International Financial Centre, Sotheby’s and at The Art Club, London. There will also be an online auction at Atlantis Dubai and one at the World Economic Forum in Davos where he will be the first artist so far to speak to world leaders.

Celebrated as one of the most influential artists in the world, Jafri has raised over US$60 million ( ₹441 crore) from the sale of his works over the last 18 years for various charitable causes. He is also one of the youngest artists to be offered an 18-year retrospective world tour visiting 30 cities in 24 countries with his work being showcased in prominent art institutions across the globe. Jafri’s work now regularly sells for US$2-4 million (₹14.7-29.4 crore). A painting called Virat Kohli became the most expensive sporting painting ever sold by a living artist when it went at an auction in London for 2.9 million pounds (₹29.7 crore).

“My work has always been about humanity; that in a selfish way is when I create my most poignant and best work. With that in mind, this seemed like an ultimate humanitarian cause. When Covid-19 hit the world it was an opportunity to be united to find a solution to make our planet better. To understand the power of empathy, to move away from discrimination,” Jafri, who studied fine arts in Oxford University, says.

Jafri began linking his art with humanitarian projects after a trip to Darfur with George Clooney in 2004, when he was asked to make a poster for Clooney’s film Sand and Sorrow, a documentary about Sudan. “It was a life-changing experience for me. That inspired me to visit 42 refugee camps in the world. I then created 12 paintings and raised 12 million dollars (₹88.2 crore) through auctions and put them back into the camps. That was also when I felt I had created my best work.”

Abstract in style and made with striking colours, his art has the ability to trigger the viewer’s senses. His creativity stems from his subconscious mind as he goes into a deep meditative state while painting. The father of two, who has studios in Dubai, London and New York and counts several A-list celebrities as friends, says he found his muse in the pure soul of children.

“We will always learn more from our children than we can ever teach them,” he says. “Children are closer to our creator, closer to the soul of the Earth. Our greatest gift is our childhood. Yet we are told to move away from it but in reality we should keep the child alive in us. I feel closest when I connect with children.”

Tessy Koshy is an independent journalist based in Dubai

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Published on March 03, 2021
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