A privilege to meet Hassan Sharif, a true pioneer

Our reporter Anna Seaman recalls her meeting with Hassan Sharif, an Emirati artist, who died on Sunday.

Hassan Sharif with Anna Seaman. Satish Kumar / The National
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I interviewed Hassan Sharif in his Al Barsha studio in February last year as he was preparing for his solo show, Images, at Gallery Isabelle Van Den Eynde.

I was greeted by his nephew at the gates of the villa, and as soon I as stepped into his garden, I knew I was in the presence of a lifelong artist.

The space was full of giant installations – some finished, some under construction – and overflowing with artworks. They hung from the ceiling, and were sitting in corners – and seemed to fill every available space. It was a struggle to find a chair.

The villa was sparsely furnished, which begged the question of whether Sharif actually lived there. He just shrugged and described it as his workspace. Throughout our conversation his hands were always busy. He smoked, he fiddled with paper and he sketched.

At that time, Sharif’s work focused on the growing tide of global consumerism.

For Images, he cut pictures from glossy magazines and leaflets, and tore pages from dictionaries, photo-copied and shredded them, creating repetitive sculptures hanging from the ceiling or along walls. There was also cut-outs from iron sheets reflecting images of icons from an old dictionary.

“We are surrounded by images – they are everywhere we look and they are even above us in the sky, coming and going like ghosts that we receive through the computer, TV and radio,” he explained.

A life in constant motion, he seemed to rarely look back and was uncomfortable with the accolades thrown at him – particularly the label of the father of UAE’s contemporary art scene.

“I hate it,” he said. “I don’t want to be a father or a grandfather – I just want to keep working. I am an artist, I found my way and this is me. I am happy that it happened like this.”

We chatted as we walked around the garden. I took photographs and asked if we could have a picture together. He was kind, eccentric and bold.

I feel privileged to have been lucky enough to meet him and report on the effect that his art had on his immediate contemporaries. A true pioneer, Hassan Sharif’s legacy will live on.