With mastaba, he wanted to build a monument': Zaki Nusseibeh on Christo Filed on June 2, 2020 | Last updated on June 2, 2020 at 11.47 pm
 mastaba, build, monument, Zaki Nusseibeh, Christo

(Supplied photo)

The Christo Nusseibeh remembers is a man who would be full of energy and enthusiasm.

It is nearly impossible to find meaning in rejection, but to the late artist Christo, it only meant a new beginning. It was in the seventies that the artist and his wife Jeanne-Claude came to the UAE for the first time and envisioned an installation that could truly capture the essence of the young nation. The site was to be Liwa in Abu Dhabi. "It is a region where there are oil reserves. He saw it as a source of modern development, with oil having taken the place of the ancient pearl industry," says Minister of State Zaki Nusseibeh, who not only met the late Bulgarian artist but became a friend over the years.

Building a mastaba (mud bench) with oil barrels wasn't exactly an idea that had many takers back in the 70s when the country was building its infrastructure; Christo's proposition was seen as being infeasible. "His were ideas that would gestate for long, perhaps 10-15 years. So, he was never bothered about rejection. If you see the rest of his works, they would be temporary. He'd put them up but also take them down. The idea behind that was art is ephemeral, it should flow with time. With the mastaba, he wanted to build a monument. When he came here, he went around schools, met students, held workshops and became involved in the art scene. But he wasn't able to develop a financial package to go ahead with it. So, he went ahead and designed smaller mastabas, like the one he showcased at the Serpentine Gallery in London," recalls Nusseibeh.

The Christo Nusseibeh remembers is a man who would be full of energy and enthusiasm. "In the seventies, he and his wife came twice or thrice. I was then director of the Press office. What I noticed about him was that he loved moving around. He was also constantly developing the idea of the mastabas to become some sort of a self-financing project; a tourist site people would come to visit. And it was to be a permanent installation."

For an artist constantly on the move and believing in the transience of art, building a permanent installation also meant finding a ground beneath his feet. If the UAE had struck a chord with him, says Nusseibeh, it's because it was a new experience to him. "He came in the 70s, it was a new region for the world, buzzing with new life and culture. He loved the landscapes and was fascinated by the idea of a new centre rising around the coast of gulf." In fact, such was his commitment towards the building of the Mastaba that even in his recent visits, he'd broach the subject often. "In all his projects, including Reichstag (in Berlin, a structure he'd wrapped), he was able to raise enough funds. And while he did make a number of propositions and some of them were even good, I don't think there was enough time for them to materialise. There were also considerations of environment and security, but I thought a site could be found that could meet those demands."

The last time Nusseibeh met Christo was two years ago when a retrospective of his works was taking place in Belgium. "I can tell you he never changed in terms of his looks, energy and enthusiasm."


Anamika Chatterjee

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