An Emirati girl levitates in space, a tangle of roots emerging from beneath her feet. To her left, a portrait of mathematician Ibn Yunus is seen gazing out into the galaxy. The Arabic word “amal”, meaning hope, is emblazoned on the work in bold colours. Between them is the planet Mars against a black sky dotted with stars.
This surreal vision is the work of designer Amna Basheer and Emirati artist Reem Al Mazrouei, who have painted a mural to celebrate the recent launch of the Hope probe, or Al Amal, the UAE’s first interplanetary space mission to Mars.
The work, comprising panels mounted on a wall and measuring more than five metres in length, was unveiled in Dubai’s Al Fahidi district on Sunday, July 26. Commissioned by Dubai Culture, the painting was devised by Basheer and Al Mazrouei one week before the UAE Mars mission, and the two completed it with the help of the team at art consultancy Art Painting Lab.
The image of the girl, Amal, who is adorned in traditional jewellery, is a nod to Al Mazrouei’s Emirati background. “I tend to represent my culture in my drawings and characters. Though the mural has a contemporary look, I wanted it to have a traditional feeling,” she explains.
“The girl is wearing the type of Emirati jewellery that we still wear today whenever we celebrate great events in our life, Eid and weddings. The Mars mission was such a great achievement, so the girl is wearing valuable gold to reflect that,” she says.
Focusing mostly on illustration, Al Mazrouei, who is new to the art scene, studied visual art at Zayed University. In her work, she often borrows from the styles of surrealists and fantastical imagery. Her first artistic project took the form of a children’s book, for which she produced the illustrations.
Her chosen concept is heavy with symbolism, as she explains the idea behind the roots at the girl’s feet. “It shows that she is connected to the Earth. It is this aspect of the Emirates … no matter how far we go, we are still connected to our roots and traditions,” Al Mazrouei says.
The profile of Ibn Yunus was added by Basheer, an Indian designer and illustrator, who has lived in Dubai for the past two years. She says it represents the numerous contributions the Arab world has made to the world of astrology for centuries.
"When we heard the news of the mission, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to use public art to mark the occasion. We wanted to marry old traditions and the science and research that led to this moment," she tells The National. As an added touch, the designer has also included an interactive element to the piece – an image of a telescope. "People can pose with it and pretend that they're looking right at Mars," she says.
Trained in fashion illustration, Basheer initially worked on creating storyboards for films before experimenting with murals, which she grew to love. “Painting something really big and permanent is a good feeling,” she explains. Her work with Art Painting Lab has led her to transform spaces such as offices, car parks and cafes into more creative surroundings. Like Al Mazrouei, her preferred style draws from surrealism.
She hopes that this new large-scale commission will give passersby and the public “something to be excited about” despite the pandemic. In the face of global uncertainty, the UAE’s Hope probe pushed through with its 200-day journey to the Red Planet.
When it arrives in February, it will study its climate and eventually send back data to research centres over the next few years. If the launch had been delayed any further, the mission would have had to wait at least two years for the planets to align again.
For Al Mazrouei, the mission provided a sense of comfort and a change of focus from the outbreak. “It shows the strength of the country,” she says. “We have this ability to adapt and stand up again.”