Vincent Abadie Hafez, a French contemporary artist who goes by the street name Zepha, is the latest artist to take paintbrush to wall to transform the UAE’s skyline.
His 345 square metre mural sits front and centre on Sharjah's Corniche Street. The work is part of Jedariya, the Maraya Art Centre's outdoor street art initiative that brings artists to the emirate of Sharjah with the aim of beautifying its streets. Vincent began the first phase of his large-scale outdoor work last December, and then returned last week to complete it. The final phase took him six days, and now the Awqaf building on Sharjah's waterfront is almost entirely covered in his abstract calligraphy.
Born in Paris in 1977, Zepha became part of the graffiti scene in the late 1980s. He is an active member of the now-global street art community, and has participated in many worldwide exhibitions in France, Germany, Morocco, Spain, Libya, Switzerland and Tunisia.
His first Middle East exhibition was in Dubai in 2016 – called Superplasticizer. For that collection he obtained cement from Al Quoz, sand from beaches in Dubai, waste water from air-conditioning units and superplasticizer and mixed them into a paste to create a textured base for his canvases. He then used discarded pieces of wood to mark and score the canvases, deepening the texture before painting over the top with his distinctive style of calligraffiti, a style that he devised in the 1990s.
Zepha has also painted a permanent piece on December 2nd Street in Satwa as part of the Dubai Street Art Museum project.
For his Sharjah street work, the 43-metre by 8-metre wall has been painted in hues of blue and is inscribed with a verse from the Quran. The Surah Ali’Imran – verse 92 says: “Never will you attain the good until you spend from that which you love”.
Fatma Al Mahmoud, programme and projects coordinator for Al Maraya Art Centre, said that the inspiration to put the verse on the building comes from the fact that the department of Awqaf enhances the awareness of Islamic waqf (endowment) in the emirate. It works to invest waqf funds with the aim of meeting the religious legal objectives of waqf donors. “We saw Zepha’s work at the Dubai Street Art Museum on December 2nd Street, and wanted to do something with him. He agreed so we shared the concept with the charity and got their approval. Zepha’s style is taking Arabic letters and transforming them in an abstract way,” Ms Al Mahmoud told us. She says the best way to view the mural is to stand directly in front of the building.
The mural is sponsored by Halima Al Owais, whose grandfather, Sultan bin Ali Al Owais, founded the Al Owais awards – a bi-annual prize for artistic and cultural achievement in the Arab world.Halima Al Owais said of Zepha’s mural: “The location and inspiration behind this piece of art is a testament to our sense of communal belonging here in Sharjah and the desire to serve our community through the funding and development of the aesthetic of the locations of most significance that serve the wider community.”
Other artists who have collaborated in the Jedariya initiative are eL Seed, Marwan Shakarchi and Zena Adhami. The French-Tunisian artist eL Seed was commissioned to decorate the walls of Sharjah's Bank Street building. Iraqi Marwan Shakarchi, who's known for his cloud caricatures, covered a derelict building in Sharjah in colourful characters. Meanwhile, UAE-born graphic artist Zena Adhami drew inspiration from Sharjah's familiar tourism catch-phrase, "Smile you are in Sharjah", drawing the message by the port.
The mural can be found on the Awqaf building, 85 Al Corniche Street, Sharjah (www.maraya.ae)