The big picture
Gulf Business|April 2021
The Journey of Humanity is the world’s largest canvas painting. Dubai-based artist Sacha Jafri raised $62m from the sale of it, all of which will now be given to charity. Here’s what it took to create one of the biggest artistic, social and philanthropic projects of its kind to date
VARUN GODINHO

Sacha Jafri’s mother thought he was clinically mad. His father was convinced he was a genius. One of them was right.

As a biracial child growing up on the margins in the UK, Jafri relied on a scholarship to enter Eton – never mind that the wealth generated by his great, great grandfather who was a maharaja in India somehow vanished within a few generations – where he studied with Prince William. As Jafri adds, he was severely dyslexic at the time. “The head of dyslexia for Europe chose three people around the world to conduct a case study, and I was one of them.” She found that his normal IQ was so low, it couldn’t be plotted. However, his social IQ was above 200 and also couldn’t be plotted on a chart. “She said, ‘One of the wires in your brain is in the wrong place. You shouldn’t actually be able to exist in this world, because these two parts of the brain do not connect’.”

As a result of the dyslexia, Jafri says that he was bullied and couldn’t really fit in. When the headmaster at Eton summoned his parents – which is when they presented two starkly different reactions to their son’s condition – he also offered Jafri the keys to a porter cabin which would be exclusively his and filled with paint, canvas and an easel. He was allowed to do whatever he wanted there, provided he could make it to all his other classes. That sparked a real interest and the start of his work as an artist. “I then got into Oxford University and got an MA from Oxford, scoring a double first.”

Over the last two-and-a-half decades, Jafri’s had a prolific career in the art world. But it’s also one that he’s tried to desperately get as far away from its traditional trappings as he can. “The art world is full of nonsense. It’s full of smoke and mirrors, manipulations, lies, dishonesty and corruption. Art is seen as this commodity, which is traded, heavily manipulated, and things are hidden away so the value can grow. If you shock people, you get them talking about something for a bit. You then put a high value on it and sell it. People talk about it, but it doesn’t last long. It lasts two months, three months – if you’re Damien Hirst you might get away with it for a couple of years,” says Jafri.

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