Marwan Shakarchi’s clouds light up public art in UAE
Sharjah - London-born Marwan Shakarchi recently drew significant attention and caught the public’s imagination through street art and murals, concepts that are fairly new in the UAE art scene.
Shakarchi is also relatively new to the Emirates’ art scene, having moved there two years ago but he has made an impact after executing two major works — Jedariya, a mural initiative in Sharjah by the Maraya Art Centre and at the German International School in Dubai.
“For me, anything that has the power to make you think twice, take a step back, question or unexpectedly shock you is powerful,” Shakarchi said of public art. “Aside from public art beautifying an overinflated media environment and giving life to a surface in the midst of the selfishness it shocks you into thinking.”
The United Arab Emirates, he said, has begun to invest in public art. “It takes time. It takes persuasion and it doesn’t come without restriction but it is definitely prevalent, more so now than ever before,” Shakarchi said.
Before he moved to Dubai to pursue a full-time career in the arts, Shakarchi made artistic forays in other parts of the world, including Japan, Tunisia, Spain, New York, Lisbon and Portsmouth.
While pursuing a corporate career in London he experimented with art in his spare time. This is when he came up with the image of a cloud caricature with ‘x’s for eyes and forged his identity as Myneandyours.
When asked about the “cloud” image that he had made his permanent signature, he said he found that “repetition has an inherent power to be memorable and with a symbol comes something an audience can begin to identify with. The cloud provides this identity and attempts to open a dialogue.”
On whether he can make it relevant in all contexts, Shakarchi argued: “Its current relevance is amplified through its placement and narrative and I think perseverance gives an audience who might not have paid attention at first a reminder to pay attention this time around.”
“The positive reactions of the audience have been heart-warming and rewarding for us. Myneandyours has specifically attracted with high interest the youth becoming a landmark in the neighbourhood,” said Maraya Art Centre Director Giuseppe Moscatello, who commissioned Shakarchi for the work titled There’s an Angle to Everything, which takes up an entire side of a building in Al Khan, a suburb of Sharjah.
The recent mural at the German International School, titled The Girl Who Changed It All, was the result of a collaboration between Shakarchi and the students who made creative suggestions for the final work.
“The wall in Sharjah felt like a bit of a triumph,” Shakarchi said. “A lot of work went into making it happen and in a place like Sharjah, where murals have never existed, to show someone something new is a privilege. It became a bit of a guessing game as to what was happening. Curiosity is crucial and without it we remain controlled.”
The wall at the German school in Dubai is more private but equally as effective. Viewers are mainly eager young minds. “Maybe, I can help them understand from a young age that you don’t have to follow the status quo,” he said.
Shakarchi’s projects are intended to bring people together. He said if he can integrate that into involving people who can help expand the project, this seems like a natural progression. “Building a community of people around your work is just as important as the substance of what you create,” he said.
Shakarchi recalled the moment when he decided to change from corporate life to being a full-time artist: “I made the switch at my lowest point. It was either I made a change or I signed up for therapy and hoped to find a place for the corporate world in my bones.”
The risks involved and managing the transition summed up his characteristic candour.
“The fear of the unknown has the power to trap us,” Shakarchi said. “In fact, fear has the power to prevent us from ever doing anything. I still haven’t overcome that fear — I probably never will — but I have learnt to embrace and enjoy it. I welcome feeling uncomfortable as it reminds me that I am pushing myself rather than just accepting.”
In the case of the commercial work that Shakarchi has done, the artist has been lucky to work with clients who have a similar vision and given him the freedom to work on what he feels makes artistic sense and learn something along the way.