Life & Style | People

Spiritual graffiti artist

Does passion create style? Or does style make for passion? Are the two even related? <em>Tabloid</em> features a personality that brings style or passion or both into their lives and subsequently into the lives of others.

  • By Vinita Bharadwaj, Staff Reporter
  • Published: 00:00 January 11, 2005
  • Tabloid

Does passion create style? Or does style make for passion? Are the two even related? Tabloid features a personality that brings style or passion or both into their lives and subsequently into the lives of others.

You can’t miss me. I’ll be the guy with the beard,” said Mohammad Ali, a graffiti artist, when asked how he could be recognised.

Sure enough, he is the only man with a prominent beard at the meeting place. “I told you so,” he said with a distinct Birmingham accent and blamed the English weather for his late arrival.

Mostly associated with vandalism and disgruntled adolescents, Ali’s association with graffiti would not appear to be the most appropriate outlet for artistic expression, but he is not the least bit bothered.

“My work is an early attempt to fuse an element of urban life with spirituality. It just takes an old passion of mine and has worked with a new-found passion to create this style of expression,” he said.

Ali is a 25-year old British Muslim, from Birmingham, England, and is quite vocal in his ideas and opinions. “I know a lot of people don’t even consider graffiti as an art form. It’s always been kept out of the museums, but it’s always been a fascination for me.”

He recalled how his interest in doodling and sketching at a young age prompted him to explore the much frowned upon territory of graffiti. “Van Gogh was not for me,” he said “with all due respect”. “I just couldn’t relate to the depressing lives the great artists lived and needed something more vibrant and energetic.”

Though his Asian parents totally disapproved of his hobby, Ali decided to capitalise on his interest by pursuing a degree in multimedia and design. “I’m lucky to be able to have worked in an area close to my heart and it was a good backup until I managed to achieve some sort of recognition for my art,” he said.

Having gone through a typical British childhood and even made money by working on public murals in his home-town, Ali said his life changed four years ago. “There were some personal incidents in my life that made me introspect and try and discover a more spiritual side to myself,” he said.

Ali saw religion as his solace and drew enormous comfort by rediscovering the meaning of his life and trying to find answers to many of his inner conflicts. It was on this quest that he realised the beauty of the Arabic script. “Reading the Holy Quran, I felt the writing was very powerful and meant to represent the intensity of the message of the religion,” he said.

The desire to paint resurfaced within Ali, only this time he was inspired by the Arabic language. “I wanted to use my art to reflect my spirituality and take an art form that belonged to the street and connect with ordinary people through the divine message contained in the holy book,” he said.

Ali’s mediums are usually canvas and his tools are always aerosol paints. “Lots of spray cans.” He demonstrates on a plain sheet of paper with a regular biro as to how the strokes involved in graffiti are filled with vigour and high levels of energy. “I think by bringing out the Arabic language through graffiti, there is a higher chance of sparking an interest in younger Muslims towards spirituality,” he said.

Ali usually works with words that have a deeper meaning in a spiritual context and uses graffiti techniques to bring out his interpretation of the word. “I think if I had seen graffiti in Arabic in my own youth I’d have been inspired to follow my faith earlier. The perception is that religion is for old folks and I just want to bring it out to the younger generation,” he said.

As he brought out some of his works, which are his interpretations of popular words such as Salaam (Peace), Dikhr (Remembrance) and Alif, Lam, Meem, he continued to explain his approach to his art. “This [Alif, Lam, Meem] is an exploration of the most mystical elements of Islam and I’ve interpreted it with a Matrix [the Keanu Reeves starrer] style,” he said.

Inevitably the conversation steers its way to the subject of selecting words and response of more traditional followers of Islam. “My work stays away from anything figurative. I don’t want to upset anyone and I’m not into controversy,” he said. True to his word, Ali’s works are mostly inspired by universal concepts such as knowledge, peace and spirituality, which appeal to all cultures and races.

“There are some words that are typical to my religion and I find inspiring, but since it’s a personal work of art and far from drawings in any form, I’ve only had a positive response,” he said and divulged plans to present an exhibition of his works in Dubai later this year.

“The concept of representing the Arabic language with aerosol is really the meeting of God’s expression with man’s interpretation,” he said adding that Dubai’s successful juxtaposition of the old and new made it an ideal canvas for his own art.

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