DUBAI: Sacha Jafri is one of the most famous artists in the world, and not just because of his obvious talent. The 45-year-old has a knack for doing things that have never been done before. Later this year, he is set to become the first person whose artwork will be exhibited on the moon. He holds the Guinness World Record for the largest art canvas (the 18,000 square meter “Journey of Humanity”). And he’s reportedly the youngest artist to have had a 20-year retrospective world tour.
“I’m not trying to do this on purpose,” Jafri told Arab News. “It’s the other way around. The notes come to me. It’s quite spiritual what I do: I access something magical, take a moment and something beautiful happens. And then someone points out that no one has ever done that before.”
We speak at the unveiling of Jafri’s latest project, The Art Maze – another first (the first art exhibition in a purpose-built steel maze) – at the helipad of Dubai’s Burj Al-Arab Hotel, 212 meters above sea level. The work celebrates 50 years of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
It’s a hot March afternoon and the sun is beating down. Jafri, who currently lives in Dubai, has had a busy six-week schedule and has spent the last 28 hours painting non-stop. But he’s still lively – just as passionate about his art and the causes he paints for.
“It’s a problem when children don’t learn history; They don’t know where we come from,” he says. “They are spending more and more time online. As a father of two, I’m concerned. I think this project will raise awareness about our beautiful planet. And what better way to do that than to paint the UNESCO sites?”
As with most of Jafri’s projects, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the 50 paintings in the Art Maze will be donated to UNESCO. Jafri began working with humanitarian projects after a trip to Darfur in 2004 with George Clooney while filming the documentary Sand and Sorrow. This trip inspired him to visit 42 refugee camps around the world and raise millions of dollars for these camps.
Described as a pioneer of magical realism, Jafri’s collectors include Bill Gates, the United Arab Emirates Royal Family, the British Royal Family, Richard Branson, George Clooney, Will Smith, Madonna, David Beckham, Rafael Nadal and a host of other celebrities the whole world. His work has been featured in most major international arts institutions and has raised more than $140 million for charities around the world through his art. Journey of Humanity alone fetched a whopping $62 million at auction last year, with proceeds going to multiple charities and government agencies including Dubai Cares, UNICEF, UNESCO and the Global Gift Foundation.
We Rise Together with the Light of the Moon, set to be placed on the lunar surface later this year, also has a strong humanitarian aspect. Funds raised will be pledged to charities focused on equality for all, sustainability, education and health.
“If you ask me, we don’t really need an artwork on the moon, but it’s a huge opportunity to raise money for charity,” says Jafri. “Ultimately, it’s about reconnecting humanity, connecting with each other, with our Creator and with the soul of the earth.”
The heart-shaped artwork features two human figures intertwined and is being placed on the moon in collaboration with NASA as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Initiative (NASA CLPS). The launch will trigger the release of a five-part NFT (Non-Fungible Tokens) collection for charity and will also include the launch of Jafri’s Cryptonaught series. While making his foray into the world of digital art, he became the world record holder again (most open issue NFTs sold in less than a minute, with a $2 million sale in 45 seconds).
But even when incorporating technology into his work, Jafri is quick to warn of its pitfalls.
“Our future is human,” he says. “Technology can be used to help humanity, but it should not take over.”
Jafri has grown into one of the most bankable investments in the art world. And as he explains, there are few artists who are so immersed in their work. He has been shown to go into a trance-like state when he paints, and when he struggled academically with severe dyslexia as a child, he says art was “the only thing that made sense” – something the teachers in the UK’s most prestigious public school, Eton (which he attended at the same time as Prince William) was happily recognized and provided Jafri with his own studio in a portable booth. “It changed my life,” he says.
Brain scans have shown that Jafri enters a theta state while painting – meaning he is extremely relaxed and tasks are almost automated. Due to the high level of involvement in his work, he often does not sleep or eat for days on end. While creating “Journey of Humanity,” he often worked in 17-hour streaks and did not sleep for four days. (He ended up with a herniated disc in his spine and dislocated ankles.) And as mentioned before, he painted non-stop for 28 hours prior to the unveiling of The Art Maze.
“For an artist, what counts is not the finished product or the journey, but the way they live their life. If you don’t live in grace, even if you create something beautiful, it has no meaning or poignancy,” he says. “It’s the intent you create with that stays.
“The whole point of art is that it is the soul of a person who has surrendered and connected to something greater than themselves. Once we involve the ego and become important, the magic ends. That’s why I can say I love what I do – because I’m not. I’m just honored to have been part of the process,” he continues.
“Art is really two (things): love and empathy,” he concludes. “When these two come together, something happens that changes the world.”