Seven months, 1,065 paintbrushes, 6,300 litres of paint and $62 million – Sacha Jafri has pulled off one of the art world's greatest feats with the sale of his record-breaking canvas The Journey of Humanity.
From April until September, the British contemporary artist used the ballroom of Dubai’s Atlantis, The Palm, to make the world’s largest art canvas – officially certified by Guinness World Records – measuring 1,800 square metres and spanning more than two football fields placed end to end.
The finished piece, which has been on display at the hotel over the past few weeks, was cut into 70 pieces and was set to be sold across four auctions this year with the hopes of raising $30m for charity. However, the piece was sold in its entirety to Andre Abdoune, chief executive of Altius Gestion International Holding, during an auction in Dubai on Monday for a staggering $62m.
Video footage from the auction, held in the room where the artwork was created, shows the moment the hammer came down on the most expensive artwork ever sold in the UAE.
“This gentleman here is helping to make dreams come true, this gentleman here is helping to make history, this gentleman here is going to be the talk of the town,” the auctioneer says.
An emotional Jafri can be seen jumping on to his table and holding his head in disbelief, before going to embrace Abdoune.
"It was my dream in my life to do something amazing for my children, for my father," Abdoune said in a statement following the sale. "I talked with Sacha and I discovered the investment and love he put into this painting was so amazing.
"All my life I was aiming to help children. When I was a child, I had nothing to eat. Now I have something to eat. We all have to do something. Every dollar can mean something. If we do it together, we give hope to these children and their future. The UAE shows us the way, we have to follow it. The impossible is possible. I want to say that this is just the first step for 'Humanity Inspired'."
The funds will be split between Dubai Cares, Unicef, Unesco and Global Gift Foundation. Partners from the public sector in the UAE including the Ministry of Tolerance and Coexistence and Ministry of Education also joined the initiative.
One of the programmes to benefit will be Unicef’s Giga project, an initiative launched last year alongside the International Telecommunication Union with the aim of connecting every school in the world to the internet. The initiative will also support Unesco in its efforts towards facilitating the production and endorsement of a Global Declaration on Connectivity for Learning and Livelihood, which aims to make connected learning more inclusive and more equitable, and will be launched by Dubai Cares and its partners during Expo 2020 Dubai.
Jafri, who lives in Dubai, spent 20 hours a day creating the work. To help fill the canvas, the artist invited children from around the world to send in their drawings themed around isolation and connection, which were then used for the first layer of the painting.
The final version contains more than 300 layers of paint. The finished work was unveiled on February 25 by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak,Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence, and Dr Tariq Al Gurg, chief executive of Dubai Cares.
Jafri is no stranger to using his work to raise funds for charity, having raised more than $60m already over the course of his 20-year career. He has acted as a long-time ambassador for the Global Gift Foundation, which is run by Maria Bravo and Eva Longoria. His work has previously been auctioned to benefit the Start Foundation in Dubai, La Pegasus Polo Centre in northern India and the mental health initiative Heads Together, run by the UK's Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, among other causes. His collectors are starrier than most artists could ever dream of.
This includes former US president Barack Obama, members of the British royal family, Sir Richard Branson, Sir Paul McCartney, David Beckham, George Clooney and Longoria herself, according to Jafri's bio.