"Art was born from a respect for humanity; its colors to correspond to different tongues in different conditions at the same time." This is Wasel Safwan’s philosophy on art.
Mr. Safwan grew up in Al Ain city in the Al Muajei district and studied architecture at the University of Ajman. He cites his study as a major influence in his art, adding that it has helped him create an emerging style that is clearer and sharper because it includes broken lines and his work is geometric in nature.
This piece of art – entitled Al Muajei 3 – was produced during Ramadan fasting time. The play of this art piece was blended with Islamic spiritual manners; I pray the Fajr, and then start praising – tasbeeh - for the sake of the creator of the Earth and Universe, Allah. Then I start reciting from the Quran until the light of the sun touches the bodies on Earth where millions of people are fastingtogether. You receive a cool breeze which massages your skin, then you start walk with the line and color it, all the while still doing praises to Allah. The focus on your work is more clear because your heart is almost pure, no worries surround you, you are in the Hands of Allah while you are fasting. It stays like that until noon time, and then the weather becomes hot. I start working again after noon time – after Asr pray – to the sun set time. Thanks to The Creator for the graces which we live with, and big hello to Al Muajei, on the land which received The Prophet Muhammed – peace be upon him – says Wasel.
People tend to think of artists as other worldly creatures. I am a human being like everybody else; there are things that I enjoy, things that make me cry, things I find difficult to do and love to work on the gift I have - art. For me, architecture comes from art; there is no architecture without art. Art is in everything in our lives: our habits, our language, our accent, our look and even our food.
I imbibed art from the most mundane things.
My grandfather, Abdul Kareem Antepli, was a carpenter and I enjoyed seeing his wood work. I have a chair he made that I treasure. My father, Safwan Antepli, opened the first curtains store, Al Qusoor Curtains, in Al Ain in 1974. He used to take me with him to most of the palaces in Al Ain and other cities in the UAE, and that I think started my love for architecture. I remember the style was mostly Roman and Islamic. Palaces are built on huge scales, and that probably taught me to think big.
Though my father does not paint, he is still connected to art. He invests in art. For his interior decoration business he hires artists and designers to translate his ideas into reality.
I used to be influenced by cartoon features.
As a child, while watching a cartoon on TV I'd press the ‘pause' button to sketch a character. I played a lot of make-believe games, creating a spacecraft beneath a table by sticking my drawings together to make its walls and using discarded cables and sockets to simulate controls. My mom tells me that I was a very quiet child who prefered to observe rather than talk and this habit persists.
My teacher always wanted to figure out who did my drawings; she did not believe they were my own creations. I enjoyed deciphering the intricacies of my surroundings but I had no idea I would become an artist.
Strangely, no one in my family has ever worked for someone else as an employee. My great grandfather, Khalil Antepli, used to be a trader which took him as far as Argentina. My grandfather had his own carpentry studio. My father has his own interior design and investment company, and today I too am on my own in my studio.
If you ask me what I am…
…I wouldn't say an artist. My life is about setting goals and achieving them. At the moment I am thinking of marriage, searching for a good woman who can support my mission. I have my family to look after, and I have my baby (art). Without them I am nothing.
I feel my work is unique. I am not saying it out of a sense of arrogance. It is very hard work. Certainly, my works influence my personality. I consider my paintings as my autobiography.
How I developed UAEism
I am always asked how I developed my style of art called UAEism. The BBC did an interview with me and that question was on the top of their list. I went to Japan recently, and it was the first question they asked me. My answer to that question is never the same, I suppose that's why they keep asking it! It's not that I am being frivolous when I formulate my answer it's just that if there were one reason or answer, then it would no longer be my mission, it would be dead. As long as I am producing art, my style will always be UAEism.
I teach UAEism to teachers as well as students, and have lectured on it at big public events such as the World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD). I have received calls to teach or talk about UAEism at the Zayed University, UAE University, the Vocational Education and Training Institute, HCT and Al Hosn University.
I developed the UAEism style after I completed my architecture studies in 2003. I had started practising architecture, and this is what gave birth to this new style. It is almost a non-figurative style, painted on large scales. It created a stir in the media, and that perhaps led the authorities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to support me to exhibit and get involved in public art activities.
The source of UAEism goes back to two people who have nothing to do with UAEism. When I was a student I ran away from school because I did not like the atmosphere. But my teacher, Faisal Al Banani, followed me to my workplace and asked me to go back to study architecture. Then Professor Burhan Tayara took charge of me, besides teaching me architecture. Since then both of them have been my friends, besides being my teachers and the prime cause of my learning architecture. I believe it was this training and their gentle encouragement that inspired me to formulate the style of UAEism. However, they don't know about it to this day.
I am part of a group of young Emirati artists and writers who are trying to bring about a cultural change in the UAE.
I happened to meet a writer and intercultural consultant, Wael Al Sayegh, one day. It was to be a most profound experience. He is a wise man, though young, and his vision is unique. I believe he is one of the pioneering thinkers in the UAE. He taught me the importance of keeping up with the times. Times are different now. We are living on a different plane now; we face difficulties that our grandfathers did not know or even imagine. Each generation is moulded by its brave decision makers. Young thinkers such as Sultan Sooud Al Qasimi, writer and art collector, and Wael Al Sayegh, are taking risks to make a change for the better. We need them, we need each other.
The Venice Biennale 2011 is around the corner.
The UAE's participation in the Venice Biennale 2011 will definitely make a major impact on the art scene here. Our participation in such important events shows the world what we are capable of. Our participation in the ongoing Shanghai Expo 2010 is a case in point. People were waiting for four hours just to get into the UAE Pavilion, which is expecting to have received 70 million visitors by the end of October. My participation there is a great honour.
The secret of living life to the fullest…
...is a mystery. It certainly is not easy. But if we can we should live our lives in peace. Life is at its best when you do not complain, do not have to ask favours from others and you can forgive infinitely. Live your life and things which are meant for you will come to you anyway.
I am not your typical artist.
I enjoy walking at night and taking care of my family. I even wash dishes at home and try to cook too. I take my sister, Manar, to the Equestrian Club in Al Ain. I enjoy meeting people, talking to them and listening to their stories. I set aside some of my time to study astronomy and I enjoy reading biographies of pioneers.
I prefer to paint outdoors
The reason is that I cannot paint large canvases indoors, except in big buildings such as the Emirates Palace in the UAE and Vitkovice, a factory in the Czech Republic, where I participated in an art festival, SMALT, in 2009. When my canvases started getting larger I moved outdoors to paint in the garden. Eventually, it became my studio!
These days I only produce drawings indoors, all my paintings are done outdoors. Of course, the weather is a spoiler; many a canvas has been damaged. That is the price for the incredible creative inputs you gain working outdoors.
The smell of my art pieces is unique; the trees infuse their smell into my skin as well as my paintings. Sometimes when I exhibit my paintings leaves fall off my canvas. The organisers always wonder where they came from!