250 faces, 35 nationalities and one giant doodle for the UAE

Sijin Gopinathan spent a year stopping strangers in the street to draw them. Now, his Union Day artwork is ready

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Sijin Gopinathan has spent most of the year travelling around three emirates with a large canvas drawing portraits of people.

With 250 faces and 35 nationalities depicted on one canvas, his work is now complete.

It is titled Mission UAE-Connect Doodle and pays homage to the UAE's diversity to celebrate Union Day.

Gopinathan began the project exactly a year ago, during a Union Day event at Dubai’s Souk Al Marfa.

“They have a nice outdoor area there,” he says. “I started sketching and people showed excitement at seeing their faces on my canvas. They started posing.”

The experience inspired Gopinathan to carry on. During his free time outside of his work as an app designer, he began travelling to public spaces in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman to meet people from different nationalities and ask if he could draw them.

He even visited schools, including Sharjah Indian School. The portraits are drawn with a marker pen and take him around 10 minutes. If a person Gopinathan was interested in drawing was in a rush, he'd ask to take a picture of them to draw later.

Gopinathan says most people reacted warmly to his request and, as more faces began populating the canvas, he soon found himself having to be more particular about who he drew or else he would run out of space before achieving his desired diversity.

“Most people were happy with being drawn,” he says. “For example, some labourers who don’t have money to spend for a portrait. I drew them for free and I could see their happiness. It was rewarding.”

It was these positive interactions, Gopinathan says, that motivated him to continue, despite challenges.

“There is no sponsor or anything,” he says. “I have a full-time job but this passion for art and just travelling to different places inspired me. It was challenging sometimes. In Souk Al Marfa, I went there again during another event and, within five minutes, there were dozens of people around me, all asking if I could do their portrait as well.”

The final phase of the project was carried out earlier this week in a private event featuring Gopinathan's friends and family.

"I told them that I want to include some of them as I finish the work," he says.

Gopinathan says he also views the project as a way of challenging the use of artificial intelligence in art, saying it can’t replace the human element. “It’s an indirect message that I want to convey that art is not generated in five seconds,” he says, adding that art is about the interaction and process.

His canvas has attracted considerable attention on social media, with 37,000 Instagram followers routinely asking him to include their portraits.

“They are from all over the world,” he says. “I have a lot of other followers from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They have asked me to include their portraits, but I’ve told them this is exclusively for people in the UAE, and that they should come here to be on the canvas.”

Gopinathan says Connect Doodle is his tribute to the UAE, where he has lived for the past decade. The artist says he also received the Golden Visa last year and building his reputation in the local art scene.

He has previously displayed works at World Art Dubai, where he drew doodles on a car in 2021, and has run drawing workshops at Manarat Al Saadiyat.

Updated: December 02, 2023, 6:59 AM