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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

‘I’m trying to open a window onto my own spiritual journey,’ says Emirati artist Ahmed Al Faresi

The artist, who takes an academic approach to art, produces works that are both existential and spiritual.
Ahmed Al Faresi. Photo by Adwa Bin Rafaa
Ahmed Al Faresi. Photo by Adwa Bin Rafaa

In 1498, a ship, carrying captives from North America, set sail across the Atlantic to the port of Lisbon. However, when it approached the shores of Europe, the ship hit rough seas and went off course, crashing somewhere in North Africa. The Native American prisoners escaped and travelled on foot to the Arabian peninsula, where they settled alongside a Bedouin tribe, fusing their traditions and habits.

This is a fictional story dreamt up by Emirati artist Ahmed Al Faresi. He depicts the artefacts that might have been produced by the two clans in a series of artworks in Dubai’s Showcase Gallery. The exhibition, We Are But One Thread, picks at that existential question: what is the purpose of life?

“I’m trying to open a window onto my own spiritual journey,” says Al Faresi. “The framework of that journey is a story. We all love to listen to stories; in fact, all religions and folk tales are stories that remain to this day because they are profound stories with links to humanity.”

In composing his story, Al Faresi conducted several weeks of historical research, and while the result he concocted is imagined, it is plausible.

“Who is to say this didn’t happen?” he asks. “Maybe it happened and history didn’t shed light on it. The universe around us is full of infinite possibilities and we need to understand that as human beings, we don’t have the capacity to comprehend it all.”

A professor and lecturer at UAE University in Al Ain, Al Faresi teaches information security. Much of his work deals with mathematics and computerised data.

“I have an academic approach to art,” he says. “My artwork is usually a narrative of religious events, scientific theories, archaeological discoveries and historical accounts.”

What it all comes down to is a deeply spiritual pathway of discovery, says Al Faresi. He asks not only himself but every viewer of his work to consider who they are, where they come from and where they are going.

“I talk of fictional stories but I am also questioning how we live,” he says. “We walk around connected to our mobile phones and live in a virtual world. Is this reality? I think reality is escaping us because we are not tuning ourselves to our spiritual side.”

A key characteristic of his art is the infinity symbol, which he draws repeatedly on undyed canvas to create undulating patterns. He uses the symbol to reference both mathematics and faith – something he describes as a paradox – which cannot be explained or understood like the concept of infinity.

“The idea is perplexing and at the same time magical,” he says. “For me, I cannot think of mathematics and numbers without thinking of religion.”

As with Al Faresi’s previous exhibition, which took place in Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace and explored the use of frankincense and other incenses within religious rituals, there are several layers of information and meaning given to each piece. When seen as a whole, Al Faresi’s work is touching.

“I am looking for the path to enlightenment,” he says. “I want to understand why are we not all connected and what it is that is hindering us from being one. We all want the same things and we are all on this planet for the same reasons, so the idea is that we need to come together and try to understand each other rather than to harm each other.”

This is perhaps best illustrated in a piece called Cutting Through the Pockets of the Night, where Al Faresi has drawn several threads of infinity patterns and sliced through them with a real antique sword attached to the frame.

“In this piece I am talking about the need to cut through the darkness to find the light,” he says.

We Are But One Thread runs until November 7 at Showcase Gallery, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai

aseaman@thenational.ae