Dubai: Meet the artist behind giant horse installation made using 187 AC Milan jerseys

Calligraffiti artist Abdul Kareem recounts his journey of live art performance, detailing two months of intense practice to create this larger-than-life artwork for the Dubai World Cup


Somya Mehta

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Bespoke art installation crafted by the locally celebrated artist Kareemgraphy
Bespoke art installation crafted by the locally celebrated artist Kareemgraphy

Published: Tue 16 Apr 2024, 5:04 PM

Last updated: Tue 16 Apr 2024, 5:08 PM

Abdul Kareem, also known as Kareemgraphy, stands as a distinguished calligraffiti artist and designer, crafting mesmerising masterpieces through his innovative fusion of calligraphy and graffiti art. Popular for his role as the graffiti artist for major events like the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 and Dubai World Cup 2024, as well as his collaborations with global brands, Kareemgraphy's statement style and creativity has garnered widespread acclaim in the Middle East.

Recently, the artist participated in the Dubai World Cup Horse Race 2024 in collaboration with AC Milan and Emirates, crafting an art installation that symbolises a horse using 187 AC Milan Home, Away, Third, and goalkeeper jerseys. “I had never attempted this kind of installation before because I've always been focused on graffiti,” Kareem recalls the surprise message he received to partake in this opportunity.

Bespoke art installation crafted by the locally celebrated artist Kareemgraphy
Bespoke art installation crafted by the locally celebrated artist Kareemgraphy

The striking piece occupied an 8x8 metre display on the grounds of Meydan Racecourse, seamlessly blending sports with art. “Initially, I had doubts because my primary focus had always been on calligraphy and this felt like a significant responsibility due to the scale of the event. I knew that if I agreed to this, I’d have to take my work to the next level. That’s what excited me the most," he adds.

For two months, the artist devoted himself to honing his skills for the live installation. "For the past two months, I've been entirely focused on perfecting the horse shape. My wife teased me, joking that I was 'living like a horse' due to my constant dedication to the project. However, it was crucial because even a slight mistake in the shape and the horse could easily end up looking like a donkey (laughs)."

"Every evening, I'd head to my friend's sports club, where he generously supplied me with T-shirts. I was fortunate to gain access to a spacious school ground where I could craft a six-metre masterpiece," reflects Kareem, a native of Kerala, India.

For the trial run, the artist spent six consecutive hours under the scorching sun, diligently practising on the ground for the test-run, all while fasting for Ramadan. “People were coming up to me, saying, 'Kareem, you have to break your fast because you look tired' but mentally, I felt very strong. I didn’t want to stop.”

The final art installation took him around five hours to complete a day prior to the event on March 30. “I was really eager to get this opportunity, so I'm incredibly happy it turned out this way,” he adds. "As artists, we're perpetually chasing growth, seizing every opportunity because they rarely present themselves twice."

Abdul Kareem
Abdul Kareem

Kareem's journey into Arabic calligraphy commenced during his formative years in Medina, where he devoted himself to mastering the intricacies of traditional calligraphic techniques. Combining this expertise with over 13 years of experience at a prestigious advertising agency in Dubai and Doha, Kareem has dedicated his life to crafting captivating works where letters seamlessly intertwine with modern artistry through calligraffiti.

Calligraffiti, a term that combines ‘calligraphy’ and ‘graffiti’, refers to a style of urban art that merges traditional calligraphy techniques with contemporary graffiti aesthetics. Calligraffiti artists often use elaborate lettering, intricate strokes, and flourishes, drawing inspiration from both Arabic calligraphy and street art culture, including murals, street corners, and public spaces.

In 2022, Kareem made the bold choice to leave his full-time position as a graphic designer to fully commit to his artistic passion. A pivotal decision that marked the beginning of a transformative journey, leading him to embark on a series of significant projects on a global scale.

“A few months after I had decided to quit my job, few of my friends sent me messages about an art opportunity related to the Fifa World Cup, so I applied. Surprisingly, I received an official confirmation email just two weeks before the Fifa festivities commenced. It became a significant milestone in my artistic career,” says Kareem, adding that he had the opportunity to create nearly 14 to 15 murals across Qatar for the momentous occasion.

Live calligraffiti at Umm Sala Desert for Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 telecast on official Fifa channel
Live calligraffiti at Umm Sala Desert for Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 telecast on official Fifa channel

“I even had the chance to perform live at the Lusail Stadium during the Argentina-Netherlands match. It was an incredible experience to showcase my talent in front of a global audience.” The artist was also granted the chance to design the calligraphic cover for the official song of the Qatar World Cup, Ezz Alarab, which translates to ‘Glory of the Arabs’.

Title calligraphy for Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 official song
Title calligraphy for Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 official song

Earlier this year, the artist also showcased his live calligraphy performance on a Bentley, at The Amir Sword International Equestrian Festival in Doha, Qatar, collaborating with Al Shaqab and Bentley Motors.

When asked about the challenges of live performance as an artist, Kareem adds, “I have to say to the new generation of artists, to those who are entering this field, that performance as an artist is entirely different when you're creating something at home compared to when you're doing it in front of people.”

The artist's calligraphy on the Bentley went on to become the subject of a viral Instagram video, amassing over 33 million views and counting. “Performing live also means that you have to put yourself out there,” says Kareem. “You're not living on Instagram."

"When you're working on something at home, you can make mistakes, erase them, or even throw away the piece and start over. But when you're performing live, there's no room for error. When you go to perform, you have to give it your all, khalaas," says Kareem.

Kareem's artistic vision continues to transcend conventional boundaries through live calligraphy showcases held in various countries. In 2020, he established Kagrart in Calicut, India, a dedicated centre focused on nurturing and promoting the realms of art and calligraphy. "What you see on Instagram will fade away from memory over time, but the experiences you have in real life remain unforgettable," says Kareem.

"Currently, I'm exploring the fusion of calligraphy with installation art. As an artist, I strive to avoid the mundane things and embrace new approaches each day," says the artist, as he prepares to set off on the quest for his next life-size canvas.


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