Video: Walking atop the world's largest painting-in-the-making
Dubai-based artist Sacha Jafri's monumental work aims to set a world record for being the largest painting on canvas.
Artists have captured worlds on their canvases many times. But the humongous canvas that has taken over the entire ballroom of Atlantis, The Palm, aspires for a very different distinction - the world's largest painting on canvas.
Its creator Sacha Jafri has already acquired a reputation for his art-for-cause initiatives. This one will serve a larger purpose by raising 25 million dollars to be used for children's education. The Journey of Humanity, which is supported by the UAE government and has partners such as the UNICEF and Golden Gift Foundation, will be split into 60 panels and auctioned upon completion. "We will only put up one panel at a time on the stage. The idea is whoever buys each piece, they own a part of the largest painting ever created in the world."
The painting is intimidating, even in this work-in-progress stage. Laid out from corner to corner, it is almost impossible to catch a full glance unless you climb atop a scaffolding. Jafri suggests we walk on top of the work to spot the various nuances and observe the strokes.
Walking through what is likely to become the world's largest painting on the canvas, one spots myriad shapes and objects. There are hearts, circular portals, windows - all objects of desire in the time of Covid-19, as they all represent the idea of breaking free. But then breaking free is important to the project that is The Journey of Humanity, and so are young minds. If not entirely peripheral, adults - in Jafri's world - are incidental. "Adults have agendas, politics, predispositions, discriminations, judgements. Childhood is the purest form of life and I believe that we should keep the child within us alive at all times," he says.
Childhood also forms the most significant theme of the painting. "The first section is called The Soul of the Earth, which is about creation of energy. The second is about nature while the third is about humanity, the journey of an individual from childhood to adulthood. It is the most important part of the painting because what I am trying to say here is that if they're nurtured well, they can change the course of humanity." To give a higher purpose to his new work of art, Jafri aims to engage 10 million children across the world. "They send their artworks to us here at The Atlantis. I've told them, 'All I want you to do is express yourself. Put pure emotion on paper in any way you feel.'"
Covid-19 has changed our lives forever. While as adults, we rely on our emotional tools to understand and come to terms with the new normal, many children have been left in a space they cannot fully comprehend. There is confusion and a deeply internalised sense of panic. Jafri's call to children is also to enable them to articulate what they are thinking and feeling through art.
Numbers are important to any work of art that aspires for superlatives to be attached to it. Strolling through the sometimes gooey parts where the paint is yet to dry out completely, we ask him what the dimensions of the work will be, and are told it will be the size of two football pitches from end to end with a length of 120 metres.
The humongous scale also begs questions on the method. A work like this cannot be laid out vertically, which means Jafri is having to sit back and paint for 18-20 hours every day, using brushes that he would ordinarily use for his other work.
"My back is gone," he says. "There are times when I tell myself, 'I can't do this'. But then I come back strong after two days and tell myself that yes, this is a difficult journey, but it must be done because art is all that matters. It is the largest painting ever created on campus by a single human being, so this is a very difficult journey." This also means that there is no linearity to the process itself. He tells us that on the first day, he stared at the blank canvas for hours and went into a 'trance-like' state when emotions simply began to be translated into strokes. Interestingly, he started painting from the middle.
Most artists' view of the current pandemic goes beyond facts and numbers. It is a portal into a new order. Jafri doesn't think that Covid-19 has changed the world as much as it has changed the way we look at it. "I think the world has woken up. People are more mindful, they have begun to realise what's important and what isn't. They are becoming more grounded," he says. "And while it's a great leveller ("a prince and a pauper, both can get it," he says), it's also terrible that people have suffered. But we owe the people that have suffered to make a change now."