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Emirati artist creates golden portrait of Sheikh Mohammed for Dubai ruler’s 71st birthday

For Abdulrauf Khalfan, his national pride is best expressed through his art.

In the Emirati artist’s latest work, he has created a shimmering golden portrait of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, as a gift for the Dubai ruler on his 71st birthday on Wednesday, July 15.

Spending his time at home due to the pandemic, Khalfan’s artistic impulses kicked into gear. “During this stay at home [period], things automatically came to me. My mind was running with creative ideas,” he says.

The self-taught artist decided to build on a previous series of works where he carved portraits of various public figures into hose pipes. Lining the pipes together, he uses a blade to pare out the yellow exterior and form the image of his subject with the object’s black interior.

Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Charlie Chaplin are some the names he has created work about, but his favourite and most common subjects are Sheikh Mohammed and the Al Maktoum family.

Khalfan has also produced pipe portraits of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai.

His latest project on Sheikh Mohammed took 12 days to complete. Instead of sticking to the pipes’ usual yellow, Khalfan decided to use gold leaf for the first time as a way to highlight his appreciation for the man in the portrait. The result is a framed golden image of Sheikh Mohammed wearing a top hat during a racing event.

“This pandemic has shown how the rulers are taking care of the country,” he says. “I feel proud of my country, my rulers and the medical workers who have helped in this time. We are blessed to live in this country.”

The 36-year-old Khalfan, who also works in a bank, has been making art for a decade. In his more recent works, he creates playful, imaginative paintings filled with elements of everyday Emirati life with his own whimsical motifs.

One shows a woman in a burqa surrounded by an array of dreamlike objects – a rose in an hourglass, a multi-coloured banner, a white dove.

Khalfan has also made several tributes to the UAE and its leaders, such as his ‘three-finger art’ series, which is inspired by Sheikh Mohammed’s signature gesture. In 2013, the leader explained that it symbolises “win, victory and love”.

For his series, the artist mounts canvas on to plywood panels cut into the three-finger shape. He then paints with three brushes in one hand – each one standing “win”, “victory” and “love”, he explains – to produce his broad, colourful strokes.

Adding layers of vibrancy and motion, he also drips paint on to the canvas using a cluster of three bottles. “I want it to be something unique. I want people to feel this artwork,” he says.

Most of the three-finger paintings focus on Sheikh Mohammed, depicting portraits of the ruler in various outfits, including his military uniform and traditional kandura.

Khalfan has yet to meet the ruler in person, but says he hopes his work will show his love for the UAE.