The Man Behind The Clouds
Myneandyours artist Marwan Shakarchi talks about public art in the UAE
Have you ever seen a cloud in Dubai? No we don't mean up in the sky. Maybe on a car as it drives passed you, a small one on the back of someone's laptop, on a random wall in an alley way in Al Quoz, a herd of them flying out of a building. Nope you aren't going crazy. It's a curious little character that you can't help but notice around the city. If you're wondering, the cloud creator is Myneandyours artist Marwan Shakarchi.
Why can't we help but notice this little cloud? Well, now more than ever in Dubai and other major cities in the world, our visual public space is bombarded with advertising imagery, health warnings and public safety diagrams. Then we see a little cloud, something that isn't trying to tell us anything directly, not asking us to purchase or buy into an unattainable lifestyle. Whether we know it or not, our brain needs a break and that's where public art, like Marwan's work, comes into play.
"The whole project is really about how people connect with it and how people interpret this symbol,' Marwan told us. "It grew through the viewers reception of it. So without the audience it doesn't exist. It's nothing. If people can make a connection with it and can find something from it, that's when it's powerful, that's when it an affect you in some way."
Marwan has wheatpasted his work and his clouds all over the world from Chile, New York, and Japan. He has also been invited to paint walls in London, Portsmouth UK and Buenos Aires and of course Dubai and Sharjah.
Not only can you see his public murals in Sharjah and Academic City, but he's collaborated with big brands such as Nike, Red Bull, Ethan Allen and Parmigiani.
The man behind the cloud has managed to strike a chord with our subconscious, reminding many of us not to forget and look up at the clouds. Marwan took time out of his busy schedule to sit down with us and speak openly about leaving the corporate world behind, the power of public art and his work in the UAE.
When I was in London, even when I started working in marketing, in the evenings I was still doing Myneandyours. During the day I would wear a suit then at night I would go home and sit in front of the computer and do my thing and if I needed to go put my work around London, I would go and do that as well. Then it just became really tiring. I was suffering in the corporate world and I was suffering in the art world. Obviously my passion was in the art world. I was just doing the corporate thing because I felt I had to. I was kind of trapped in this world, it got to the stage where I had to make a decision of which one I wanted to do. I felt I had to take a risk. We (Marwan and his wife Reem) had to figure out why we were unhappy with what we were doing. The change came about when we started to consider what we were doing, rather than just doing it for the sake of doing it.
Fear Versus Desire
I think most people they just go along with their lives and they just do what everyone else is doing cause there is this fear. I think fear is the greatest thing you have in your life that can control you. I think we have two really strong emotions inside us. One is fear and one desire. Sometimes you can confuse both of them. Everyone has this fear of their future and being safe and secure and then there is this desire to live and do what you want to do. And sometimes you can never do that. Sometimes you just have to become a part of the rat race and do what everyone is doing because this is your only choice and we (me and my wife) were exactly that. We were trapped just live everyone else. So we started considering our desire. Why spend our time doing this everyday if we aren't happy. Once we started to think about our desire and what we want to do, we started to live in the moment and just do what we want to do. And that's why we decided to make that change.
I started doodling, just randomly drawing, and came up with this little character. Then on my journey to work, everyday I would walk from the train station to the office and I would make stickers, hand made stickers. I'd draw this thing on sheets of vinyl, cut out the sheets and then stick it on the way to work, just for fun. It cheered me up everyday knowing that this little guy was looking at me and I was looking at him. It was just funny to me. I carried on doing it for a while. Then bit-by-bit I would stick it everywhere. Then people started to look at it and ask questions about it and that's when I started to take it further and think about what I can do with it. But the whole idea came about organically, it was just a thing that happened from out of nowhere. There was no point where I sat there and thought 'you need to draw something, you need a character, you need to have a project, you need an idea.' There was none of that.
I think it (the cloud) will always be there. It might get smaller and smaller and be more difficult to find but it will always be there one-way or another. In a lot of my work it's very obvious, in other parts of the work it's not. It's an identity, so when people see it, they know. What I like about what I do, is that there is consistency and there is always an underlying theme, there is a story happening, there is a message and something that will always be there. It will evolve and it will grow. It's good and bad.it's bad in that it can restrict you and that everyone just wants this cloud and if you want to do something a bit different people will be like, 'why are you doing that? Stick with your cloud.' And the good thing is that it maintains consistency and identity. It makes it easier for me. Sometimes I don't write my name or anything like that and the cloud itself can tell people. So yeah it will always be there.
The Sharjah Wall
The Sharjah wall was commissioned by Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah. The clouds rising from the ground, moving towards the sky is this idea that you can achieve things you didn't think you could previously achieve. The piece is called There's an Angle to Everything and it's very much about how you look at something, how you approach something, then decide whether you can achieve it or not. Which again is a personal story for me and this wall because this wall is huge and I've never done something like that before. It was an amazing area to do work in because no one has ever seen something like that before. People were really confused most of the time we were doing it, which was my favourite thing about it. I guess they were waiting for the point where it was selling you something, and at the end of it, it didn't. It was just there to be there. So the people looking at it can then think not everything has to be media related, not everything has to be selling you something.
This one was 10 meters high and it took me six days. I was alone 80 percent of the time, the other 20 percent I had students helping me, so from the actual school (German International School). I had one student on the lift with me for a few hours helping me out and I would teach them how to paint a mural and how to use a spray can. It's called The Girl Who Changed It All and she was able to play in the sky basically. Again, it's this idea that you can do anything you want. It has a dream like aspect to it of this girl swinging in the sky. It's fluffy, it has this really inspiring feel to it. I proposed that idea to the school and then me and the students we worked together on little elements of the girl. So I would take it to the class and they would say, 'can you change her legs a bit, can you make her hair more flowy?' So it was kind of a collaboration between me and the kids.
Art VS Branding
It has to make sense. It has to feel like there is synergy between me and whoever I'm working with otherwise it just means nothing. The few brands that I've worked with, they all made sense. I always try and assess whether there is a link between us or whether I'm doing this for the sake of the money and getting on the back of a big brand which could jeopardise the integrity of what I'm doing. Many people say you should do any jobs that come along, no matter what they are and I disagree with that. I think it's very important to pick wisely and whoever you work with is going to represent your work. You've linked yourself with this person, which means you agree with what they do or believe in what they do. As much as I want to be everywhere, I want to be everywhere on my own terms. I want to do it my way. I want my work to be everywhere organically and then I'll hop on the back of a few brands that I think makes sense. But there is no right or wrong way of doing it.
Art Shifting Perceptions
I guess anything visual has the power to affect the way you think and the way you approach things. It all depends on yourself. I think the most important thing about public art is the shock factor. As you turn the corner and you see something that's not supposed to be there and you're like, 'what is that? Is that real?' When you look at the environment it's reserved for two things. One, the government and two, advertising. Anything that exists outside of these two realms is an anomaly, it's something weird or strange. And when you see something strange it makes you curious about what that thing is and then you become curious then you start to analyse things in a different way. When I'm curious I pick up a book, I read what someone else has said about something then I research then I create my own conclusion based on what everyone else had said and what I think. I guess public work can come in that circle too.
This is back to the business side of things. You have to show everyone that you're still alive. The beauty of social media is that when you do public work, the only people are going to see it are the people who pass it or if someone has taken a photo of it and spreads it for you. So, you have this opportunity with social media to connect with the entire world and show them work that is locally produced.† Which is really important I think because you're showing the entire world what you're doing, where you're doing it and what you can do. And people are exposed to what you're doing who have never been exposed to it before.