Lebanese artist Yazan Halwani on creating Tag Heuer’s first Arabic watch face
Lebanese street artist Yazan Halwani was surprised to receive a call from luxury watchmaker Tag Heuer six months ago, asking him to become a brand ambassador.
“I don’t normally wear watches but I’ve started now, of course,” the 23-year-old says. “Naturally, I was very familiar with the brand and I’m glad that our collaboration has been an open one – bridging two worlds if you like – creating something relevant to both parties.”
Tag Heuer commissioned Halwani to design a digital face for its Connected watch, which allows the wearer to upload a variety of designs via its touchscreen, in addition to thousands of lifestyle applications.
Due to be launched Wednesday night, just in time for Eid Al Adha, the Arabic watch-face design will be available – via a dedicated Tag app – to customers who buy a Connected timepiece, the prices of which range from Dh5,550 to Dh37,000.
The unveiling will take place on Wednesday during a private VIP reception in Dubai, at the French restaurant Le Cantine du Faubourg, with Halwani in attendance.
Previous watch-face creators have included Thor actor Chris Hemsworth, American football star Tom Brady and footballer Cristiano Ronaldo – but Halwani’s design is the first Arabic one.
The artist is best known for his large-scale murals across the Middle East, which feature portraits of musical, literary and political luminaries from the region, and abstract formations of Arabic calligraphy – portrayed as musical notation, petals or wisps of wind.
His calligraphic design for Tag Heuer – in muted shades of grey, white and blue – plays with the idea “Time Does Not Wait”.
“My brief was to create an artwork from the Arab world, and I wanted to find a commonality between Arabic calligraphy and watchmaking,” says Halwani. “Firstly, the digital face represented a modern shift away from a traditional watch face. And Arabic calligraphy – created centuries ago in a specific script, size and repetitive, traditional art form – is something I’ve explored in different dimensions, too. My design is supposed to invite people in the Arab world, and everywhere, to consider that they can still be progressive while always conserving their identity.”
Identity is at the heart of Halwani’s artworks, which tap into the country or community in which he finds himself creating cultural talking points. Having long witnessed the civil unrest of his native Lebanon, Beirut is often the beautified backdrop for his murals.
His depiction of Lebanese singer and actress Sabah adorns the concrete side of a building in Beirut’s Hamra district, while the singer Fairouz is surrounded in a sea of calligraphic notes in an alleyway in Gemmayzeh. A mural of the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish is another of Halwani’s noted works in the city, and one that has prompted more than just conversation among its observers. “I personally think that after I paint a wall, it’s there to be altered or intervened with,” says Halwani.
“The eyes, nose and mouth of Darwish’s portrait were erased, but everything else was preserved and so I chose to keep it as that way. It was someone’s interpretation of him and their expression of my work.
“That’s what interests me most – that the mural can be an evolution. Yes, some walls are more susceptible to damage or vandalism than others, but what I’m really happy about is how the community rallies around and sends me messages asking me to preserve or remake the walls. It’s very touching.”
From the inception of a new work, to securing permission from the relevant authorities, Halwani often has to wait for up to a year. The execution of the murals, however, is much more streamlined, taking from just two days to two weeks.
While Halwani is keen to leave an artistic impression on the UAE’s urban landscape, he remains superstitiously tight-lipped about any potential projects he has in the pipeline.
For now at least, he’s content to have his artwork displayed on the wrists of Tag Heuer’s customers. “It’s an honour to be involved with this project, and I’m delighted that Arab art like mine would be interesting on a global level,” he says. “I feel that I have a positive platform to influence some international perceptions about the Arab world and its art, and that means a lot. It’s especially nice to see in today’s world.”
Updated: September 6, 2016 04:00 AM