A man of many talents

Published: Saturday, July 30, 2016   English | العربية  

Who would have thought that a UAEU Information Security Assistant Professor with a background in Chemistry would be moonlighting as an artistic crusader of Arabian history and culture? Yara Boraie meets with the Al Ain-based educator and artist Dr Ahmed Alfaresi, who speaks about his affair with art…

Born and raised in Al Ain, Dr Ahmed Alfaresi has loved art for more than half of his life. “I remember seeing photos of me when I was young creating murals on the walls of our house, and we’re talking a huge setting, with windmills and waterfalls!” Dr Ahmed said.

His art was temporarily put on hold when he went to the USA in 1997 to pursue higher education, coming back in 2011 with a PhD.

”I appreciated the challenge of venturing out there on my own, and although it was tough at the beginning, it helped develop my character,” he said.

Returning to Al Ain, he joined United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) as an Assistant Professor of Information Security, a position he has held for the past five years. Alongside, he is also Assistant Dean for Research and Graduate Studies.

This father of a two-year-old son knew from the beginning that he wanted to pass along the knowledge he had gained and become a university professor. However, he doesn’t believe in limiting himself to just one field and tries to pursue every avenue in terms of knowledge. Of the opinion that an undergraduate study is not a one-stop-spot towards a career path, he emphasises: “It’s not the final destination, it’s the first step.”

It was in 2012 when he decided to take up art professionally - competing and exhibiting his work in local exhibitions across the UAE.

The first work he exhibited was of an oil rig. He entered it in the ‘Story of the UAE’ exhibition at the International Emerging Artists Award in Dubai. Among the exhibitions he has since participated in were ‘Portrait of a Nation’ at Abu Dhabi Arts and Music Foundation and ‘Souls of the Past’ at the Dubai Art Centre.

“I’m still trying to discover myself, which is why I experiment with abstract techniques and mixed media. Art needs to keep evolving,” he explained.

“To me, art is a form of storytelling and raising awareness. Finding inspiration is an accumulative process to me, it includes everything I’ve seen and learnt throughout my journey so far. It could range from an archaeological discovery, an historical event or a mathematical concept that I’ve come across.”

It was the Garden City’s environment which served as a major inspiration when he went solo recently with his first show entitled ‘Ancient Smoke’, however his travels to Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Italy, can also be observed in his work. The differing societies and settings seeped into his subconscious, allowing him to present a blend of cultures to his audience.

The exhibition, which took place at the Capital’s Emirates Palace, ran for three days. There were 22 pieces on display, excluding the incense burners which were used as props, with the soundtrack from the film titled ‘Timbuktu’ playing as background music – both serving as supporting elements.

The aim of the exhibition was to bring out a distinctively immersive experience to the masses, rather than just displaying the artwork. “I wanted to engage almost all the five senses (save taste!); I felt it was more fitting to the vibe I wanted to deliver,” Dr Ahmed elaborated.

”It’s a collection of a narrative that I already had in mind two years back. I saw it fitting to actually acquire antique frankincense from my travels and I incorporated it into the exhibit.

“In addition to the thought process, it took extensive online research, going back in history – until I made a connection between the use of frankincense and human spirituality. When I made this connection, I found that the entire world follows a similar ritual that is still being followed to this very day.

”What with the UAE’s multicultural, diverse base, I try to bridge all cultures through my art – you could think of it as a cultural fusion. There are various overlooked connections in the world that have not been deciphered yet. It will help make our lives better,” said Dr Ahmed with a true showman’s smile.

Only a few of his pieces are for sale, as he sees it as a cycle of selling some pieces in order to purchase the materials to keep his art going, for he doesn’t earn a living out of his art. He believes that art should not be tainted with commercialisation and that it should be accessible to everyone.

Dr Ahmed recalled his most challenging piece, which was of a palm tree where he inserted 80,000 nickel pins onto canvas. “This piece was inspired by a mid-afternoon drive one day when I was waiting in traffic and I was unintentionally observing a palm tree reflecting against the sun.

”I noticed that the sunbeams made the fronds of the palm look shiny and sharp, almost as shiny and sharp as the nickel pin. The nickel pin is a symbol of modernity which reminded me of skyscrapers. It was the juxtaposition between our modern infrastructure, and the palm tree which was our only natural resource in the past. I traced my way back to my roots.”

He credits his approach to art to his academic background. “I want to make my art understandable, but at the same time abstract, in the sense that I encode it with subliminal messages, which I want my audience to work at to decode. ”I want them to be intrigued enough to conduct their own research to find the messages that I’ve hidden – hence the name of my website, ‘Encrypted Art’. This is when my part comes in, to challenge the viewer’s thoughts, because in challenging your thoughts, you become more open-minded and engaged to your surroundings, and ultimately the world,” he explained.

“Passion for art cannot be given or taught, but rather comes from within and my advice for budding artists is to keep practising until you become a craftsman,” he added.

Dr Ahmed has a small studio at home, but he’s currently building a place for his future projects. “The theme I’m working on is inspired by the Bedouins/Nomadic Tribes around the world –it isn’t limited to just the Arab Bedouins. I’m looking to showcase the project in Dubai this Autumn,” he added.

”Art, in all its forms, is powerful enough to make a change in that it contributes positivity in a world of negativity,” he ended on a passionate note.
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