Aiming to challenge certain modern-day perceptions,Rashed Ahmed Al-Araifi puts an innovative spin on narrative art with sketches and paintings inspired by contemporary issues. FACT’s Shabana Adam sits down with the Bahraini artist to learn more about his unorthodox approach and how architecture and the social sciences play a big role in his artwork.
In all of our time in the GCC, we’ve come across some truly exceptional artists. However, nothing could’ve prepared us for the chills and “wow” moment when we first saw Rashed Ahmed Al-Araifi’s work.It’s far from the traditional. Rashed, who recently returned from studying in London where he completed a degree in architecture, is not your typical artist. His admiration for the social sciences and solving socio-political, cultural, and in some cases, random issues, through art and design are the ideas often discussed in his work. From humanitarian matters, to emotional subjects of the human heart; themes of love, time, and death can be evident.
These topics also act as the ultimate creative drive for Rashed, providing a deeper context for him to soak up new knowledge and translate his perspectives into an interesting visual. “What’s good about architecture and what I admire about the profession is that it encompasses all the sciences,” he says. “Like sociology, politics, economics, and you’re exposed to anthropology too, not just the design aspects, and that’s what I like about the creative industry.” He describes himself as, simply, an artistic nomad who shares his opinions visually. Rashed believes in the power of narrative and tries to use his art as a catalyst to add value to modern-day issues.
“I’m a nomad, a man of the desert, a wanderer,” he says. “Being exposed to contemporary art at such a young age enabled me to find and adapt my own technique. In my opinion, art should have a function and what better function than education,” Rashed adds.
His latest series, pictured on these very pages, and on the magazine’s front cover, is titled Visual Da’awa, and it’s a fine example of his vision of using art to educate people about certain social, cultural, and religious issues, amongst other things. “The pieces from the Visual Da’awa series are basically a translation of particular verses in the Quran,” Rashed tells us. “I try to give a sense of dynamism to the verse because it has so much depth and so many layers, and it could be read in so many different ways. At some point I would like to make a children’s book so I’d educate people with simple visuals like these and show them just how rich the religion of Islam is,” he says. For anyone viewing Rashed’s work for the first time, the Visual Da’awa series may just be the furthest thing from simple. But, for Rashed, having 3,636 verses to reference means his work is open to interpretation for both young people and more artistically mature viewers too. “You’re exposed to so many different levels of audiences but in a way I try to make a universal artistic translation,” he says. “I sometimes do work like a six-year-old by, simply, translating thoughts into visuals – that’s my equation.”
Rashed zones in on a particular issue, finds the missing variable, and then offers a new translation on that subject. The missing variable is, often, whatever he believes is lacking from the topic in question. “When it came to the Visual Da’awa series, I saw a missing variable in explaining a verse from the Quran through imagery,” he explains. “People have seen so much of the traditional styles of calligraphy, for example. My art presents them with something more unorthodox, but, also, it’s not just about translating a verse, it’s a mix of realism, proportion and beauty.”
Take the artwork titled Visual Da’awa: Path, which took nine hours straight to complete. This image is a translation of one line – Ihdinas-Siratal Musta-qeem (guide us to the straight path) – from Surah Al-Fatihah. “As a Muslim, I read that verse everyday, five times a day, so it rings in the heart,” Rashed shares. “That line in particular was a very significant turning point in terms of my Visual Da’awa series. It’s a very simple line, composed of very simple words that anyone can understand, but at the same time it has many different layers that give it a sense of richness,” he continues. “It’s powerful and surreal and its translation to a visual shows the head of a young person reflecting on himself, forecasting the future, and begging God to keep him on the straight path until he’s an old man.”
As someone who is just as much the architect as he is an artist, sometimes it can be challenging for Rashed to find the balance between linear drawings and emotional portrayal.“When it comes to the actual expression, I believe in the holiness of the art,” he says. “That translation is not linear because it comes from the heart and I try to deliver work in its purest form, with visual responses that reveal my opinions, perceptions, and experiences of the world we navigate through.”
After being exposed to art his whole life –Rashed’s father is a noted interior designer and his uncle is none other than the master of art himself, Rashid Al-Oraifi – it’s fascinating to learn that Rashed himself started drawing as just a hobby, with his biggest interest being Japanese animation. Now, most of his work is conceptual, with a main focus of trying to bridge functionality and narrative, and building upon that foundation whilst maintaining an innovative artistic expression. Unlike many mainstream talents, Rashed doesn’t look to other artists for inspiration.
Instead, he values the work of anthropologists, sociologists, leaders, economists and even the study of semiotics, specifically how to relate sound and imagery, to develop his work. Why? Because, it’s all about context. “I appreciate all art, but sometimes there’s not enough to take in,” he says. “I need to be a sponge, that’s why people like Imam Al-Ghazali and Ibn Al-Haytham are the people whose literature and hypothesis I look to for inspiration.”Rashed projects his stream of opinions through architecture, painting, sketching, and other creative pursuits. His problemsolving skills, eye for connotation, and ability to translate opinions through visuals are all the things that keep his unique artistic flair alive.
“The main goal is to challenge the viewer and tell their mind to think,” he explains. “This kind of art will have challenges at first but I think it will pave the way for a more dynamic audience and new contemporary artists to come forward.” We’ve got just one question: How did the Visual Da’awa series challenge you? ✤