Ras Al Khaimah artist turns scrap metal into a sculpture of Covid-19 virus

'I wanted to make something to represent the effects of the virus on life today,' Tariq Al Salman tells us

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With its bulbous oval body, and the old farm tools, plumbing and bicycle parts jutting out from its iron exterior, it doesn’t take much to figure out what Tariq Al Salman’s metal sculpture represents.

And if the sculpture’s shape isn’t enough of a giveaway on its own, its green colour is.

"I was posting a step-by-step process of making and welding the coronavirus sculpture on Instagram," Al Salman tells The National. "People started guessing what it was when I started painting it green."

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Ras Al Khaimah artist would spend most of his free time exploring the country’s natural landscapes.

"In the winters, I'd go hiking. In the summer, I'd go diving," Al Salman says. "And all around the year, I'd do marathons. So I'm pretty used to being outdoors."

I made it during Ramadan. I'd finish work and then would work on the sculpture before Maghreb

When the pandemic struck, Al Salman – who has amassed more than 40 medals for various outdoor activities – found himself spending more time at home.

Instead of letting the fact frustrate him, the artist – who regularly photographed the country’s landscapes during his excursions – decided to learn a new skill.

“I had never welded anything before. The Covid-19 sculpture was my first attempt at it,” Al Salman – an electrical engineer who has worked for Etisalat for more than two decades – says, adding that he referred to online videos and guides to get a better sense of the craft of welding.

“I made it during Ramadan. I’d finish work and then would work on the sculpture before maghrib. It took about three weeks to finish the sculpture, mostly because it takes some time to wait for a welded part to dry before moving on to the next.”

The scrap metal Tariq Al Salman used to make his sculpture. Tariq Al Salman

For parts, Al Salman scoured his farm in Ras Al Khaimah to find scraps. Anything would do, from old plumbing material to bicycle parts and unused farm tools.

Al Salman says he knew from the start that he wanted to make the welded sculpture in the shape of the Covid-19 virus.

“I wanted to do something to represent the effects of the virus on life today. It has changed the way we live and has impacted us on an economic and social level.”

However, not everyone seemed to be enthusiastic about what the sculpture represented.

“My daughter asked me why I was working on something so grim. She said no one wanted to be reminded of the coronavirus and that I should make happier sculptures.

"Even online, though the majority of the reactions were positive, there were a few who questioned why I was working on a coronavirus sculpture. But the truth is, the virus has impacted so much and it is our reality today.”

The coronavirus artwork has given Al Salman inspiration to work on more metal sculptures. He has since made two more welded pieces, one of a peacock and another of a small dog.

“Much like any skill, practise makes perfect and I gradually got better at understanding which parts weld better and which would end up falling off," Al Salman says.

“I had never welded anything before. The coronavirus sculpture was my first attempt at it,” Al Salman says. Tariq Al Salman

The coronavirus sculpture now stands in Al Salman’s farm, close to his private natural history museum, which exhibits everything from pieces of coral reef to stuffed gazelles, precious stones and skulls of rare animals.

"It is part of a project I had in mind from a long time ago; to have an educational farm, so people can come and see things that they only see on television," he told The National in 2018.

“Wherever I went I would look for nature and take photos of the interesting things I see,” he said. “So the things I found started to lure me; if I found a unique shell I would keep it, or if I went to a forest and I found a strange piece of wood I would pick it up, and gradually I started collecting from every place I went to."