Abu Dhabi F1: Egyptian artist on her inspiration for McLaren livery

Rabab Tantawy is the first to create artwork for a Grand Prix car, and has included references to Nubian culture in her design that will be on display on the final day of the race

Artist Rabab Tantawy has included Nubian figures in her artwork for McLaren livery. Photo: McLaren Racing
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The final race of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2021 on Sunday, December 12, will see McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo race around the famed Yas Marina Circuit track in a car with an eye-catching, almost hypnotic livery. This is the work of Egyptian artist Rabab Tantawy, the first female Middle Eastern artist to have been approached to design a piece of original art on race car livery – the fastest-moving canvas in the world – during a Grand Prix.

Working with McLaren Racing’s signature shades of papaya and blue, Tantawy was given complete creative control and chose to incorporate elements from her long-standing Nubian series in the artwork, which will be viewed by millions.

The nose of the car also carries the artist’s signature.

The Cairo-born artist is equally adept in oil painting and street art. Photo: McLaren Racing

The inspiration

“This series is about the Nubian culture, the land where humankind originated, its people, the grace they exude, their tight-knit community and their strong bond that extends to include everyone they meet. I believe it is the way we should all be,” Tantawy tells The National.

“It’s a series that has evolved over the past 12 years, where I explore human connection, community and oneness by painting colourful human figures side by side and interconnected by lines. The intention is to show the viewer that we are all one, no matter what colour, shape, race or beliefs we have.

“I wanted to use this theme as we are now, more than ever, in need of something that unites us.”

The artist

Born in 1971 in Cairo, Tantawy is trained in various techniques, ranging from traditional oil painting to modern-day spray-painting and street art. She is known for taking a playful approach to serious subjects such as union, community, and heritage.

Line and colour are the pillars of Tantawy’s work. Be it abstract or figurative, the artist says her work starts from the line – be it soft and flowing or strong and angular – which functions as a skeleton, informing the whole art-making process.

When it comes to colour, Tantawy is able to switch from classical earthy colours to strong neon hues in the same series with the same ease she switches between mediums.

Of the F1 livery, she says: “Having the McLaren Racing’s blue and papaya colours to work with made it very enjoyable and worked well with the theme, as Nubians are known for the vibrant colours in which they paint their houses.”

The car will be driven by McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo on the final day of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2021. Photo: McLaren Racing

The project

Approaching Tantawy is part of the Driven by Change initiative by British American Tobacco (BAT), which partnered with McLaren in 2019 to promote the company's electronic alternatives to cigarettes.

The artist’s work on the livery is the first project of the initiative, which aims to identify undiscovered and grassroots creatives and given them the opportunity to bring their work to life via elite motorsport events.

“As a family of racing fans, seeing one of my original artworks racing on track is one of the most incredible things to happen in my career – and an even more amazing feat being the first female Middle Eastern artist to do so. Never would I have imagined being given an opportunity like this,” says Tantawy.

John Beasley, group head of brand building, BAT, says: “We want to focus on providing support and opportunities for talent as we champion the diversity of people and skills in the creative world. Rabab has been incredible to work with for the launch of the programme, with her passion for diversity and togetherness, and artistic skill set to transform the track in Abu Dhabi.”

Updated: December 10, 2021, 5:53 AM