Humanity Inspired: Sacha Jafri on his massive Dubai art project

The artist aims to break world records and help charities around the world

Humanity Inspired: Sacha Jafri on his massive Dubai art project
Humanity Inspired: Sacha Jafri on his massive Dubai art project Image #2

Earlier this year British artist Sacha Jafri went into lockdown at Dubai’s Atlantis The Palm to create his record-breaking painting entitled Humanity Inspired.

The huge initiative is set to raise more than $30 million (around Dhs110 million) to connect with a billion people worldwide –and it’s quite the sight. The project is being supported by more than 100 influential public figures across the globe, including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), together with The Global Gift Foundation and the UAE Government – to connect people post the COVID-19 pandemic in order to tackle the devastating impact of the virus on children
and youth.

Jafri’s finished painting, which is due to be completed by Thursday September 10, will be around the size of two football fields at 2,000 sq m, in two of Atlantis’ massive ballrooms. We caught up with him to find out more about the massive project.

How did the idea come about?
My work has always been about humanity. Through the years I have found that I only paint good stuff – stuff that matters – if I’m linking to humanity. Otherwise, my stuff is pretty average. What’s happening in the art world is they concentrate on the finished product, then the journey of the creation or creative process. They already know what the painting or sculpture is going to be, what it’s going to look like – all that stuff. For me, that’s not what art is about. It’s about the journey.

So, previously in that process, I went to 42 refugee camps around the world, it took me five years. It started with George Clooney, when he invited me to Darfur. He asked me to do a painting for his film which is called Sound and Sorrow – instead of a typical movie poster. We travelled to the camps in Darfur, and that started my journey. From there I went to more refugee camps of the world, working with children, linking to humanity, and then I raised $12 million, which was put straight back into the camps.

I was in Dubai in February and had my world tour, which is my 18-year retrospective. I had been commissioned to do the Tokyo Olympics 2020 painting and the Expo 2020 Opening paining (one of the four). It was about to be a huge year for me, but then, obviously, everything got cancelled. I was like “…okay”. I had an idea to create something really poignant and important to try link the world.

Did you know how big an undertaking this project would be?
I wanted to connect the world, to make people understand that it’s about one people, one planet. To treat everyone the same. I didn’t plan it all out, but it became something far bigger than I thought it would be. I’ve been working on it for 18 hours a day, and the idea of the painting is that it’s the journey of humanity. It represents the soul of the earth, the arrival of nature – earth’s greatest gift – because I want to remind everyone of how to look after our planet a bit better and how beautiful it is.

Then you move into the next section which is the arrival of humanity – it’s about the nurture and protection of the mother, then guidance and protection of the father, as they guide they’re child through life, and if the child will change the world around them. The final section of the painting is the solar system, and that’s the infinity of the solar system.

I’m also a father of two, and I’ve looked into the psychology of children a lot. I found that the child only needs three things. Parents can overcomplicate things a lot, because If our children can feel safe, loved and brave, they can grow their wings and make their dreams come true. So, I want to show what that looks like in the painting.

I worked with Mr Mandela for about seven years, running a children’s fund out of Cape Town in Johannesburg, and he taught me a lot. I’ll never forget – if we can remind ourselves how small we are, we can then embrace humility, and with humility, we can become great. That becomes a part of the painting, too.

I want my work to act like an electric shock to our senses as adults, and awaken something inside us that is lying dormant. Reawakening the child within us.

What various ways did you create the painting?
The most important part of the whole painting is when the children come in. I’ve put eight huge circular portals. I’ve put a call out to the children of the world to send in their artwork, and we got paintings from 149 countries of the world, from children the age of two all the way to 18. Some of it is sad, but you can’t shy away from it, you have to embrace that it is real. Our target was to reach a billion people of the world, and as of now, we’ve reached 256 million on social media, which is surreal as we haven’t even officially announced it as a global press release. All through word of mouth and social media.

How much paint did you use?
I thought initially it was about 500 gallons, but actually its 856 gallons, so far. I’m also creating my own paint and colours, which is a lovely aspect of this.

You have an end date of September 10 to complete the painting. Has it been a struggle?
It’s not going to be easy. We may have to extend the deadline a little later, but I’m on track so far.

You’ve been at Atlantis The Palm working on Humanity Inspired since March, how has the experience been?
It’s been a major challenge, moments where I tell myself I can’t do this. It will be a Guinness World Record by a long shot. Physically and mentally it has been incredibly difficult. But I’m now looking at it and think it’s beautiful.

I’ve kept being inspired by the charities that have been involved though and what the painting has become. I’ve got no choice now, I’ve got to do it.

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