Bewildered eyes peering at the world with uncertainty from behind a mask, balls of red and green spiky bacteria and viruses morphing into each other, a stick figure family holding hands – these are just some of numerous paintings made by children laid out in neat grids in the opulent ballroom of Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai. Sketched by kids from over 140 countries they are all going to play a part in creating history amalgamated into a giant work of art being created by renowned British artist Sacha Jafri.

“Every day, paintings keep pouring in, even from kids as young as one and two,” Sacha, 44, tells Friday Lite, sitting on a small unpainted spot in the ballroom, splotches of multi-coloured paint all over his black denims and toes. “I look at every single piece of artwork that comes in. Sometimes I sit in front of them for hours, mesmerised, tears flowing down my eyes, taking inspiration from each and every single piece, connecting with whatever is there on the page, the shapes, the colours, the emotions, the energy. Their work forms the basis of my own inspiration for the Journey of Humanity, the largest art canvas in the world I am painting.”

Stuck in Dubai due to the Covid-related travel restrictions, Eton-educated Sacha (whose collectors include Barack Obama, Bill Gates, George Clooney and Madonna) joined hands with several international bodies to launch one of the biggest social, artistic and philanthropic projects in the world in March this year. Through his record-breaking art titled Journey of Humanity he hopes to connect one billion people to raise Dh110 million to provide education, healthcare and digital connectivity to children across the poorest communities of the globe.

Spread over 1,800 square metres, larger than two football pitches together, the painting, a riot of bold colours, abstract in style, has four sections and eight circular portals. Over 500 gallons of paint and a thousand brushes have been used to create it.

“All the paintings received from the children are printed and meshed into the first layer of each circular portal,” says Sacha. “Holed up in their home during the last few months, they have all expressed on paper what they absorbed. So we have a lot of masks, hospitals, villages, people holding hands, people looking at the moon, [kids pained over] separation from grandparents, from friends, superhero comic strips, hand prints and brush strokes from very young ones... We receive hundreds of them every day and I have lost count of the number. But [to get more kids to participate] have extended the date of submissions to October 1.”

Spread over 1,800sqm, the painting has four sections and eight circular portals

Sacha hopes to complete the painting soon. Once finished, it will be sectioned into 60 panels for sale and auction. Endorsed by 100 global celebrities, the project partners with six UN agencies, world charities, government bodies and the private sector, including Dubai Cares, Unicef, Unesco and the Global Gift Foundation. The larger goal is to provide internet access to ensure uninterrupted education along with healthcare to the most in-need children. “From the favelas of South America to the slums of India and Pakistan, to refugee camps in Europe and Middle East to Africa and Far East – through the project we want to give children access to iPads and computers to be able to study whatever they want. As these children become empowered though education they will help build their communities and this is how we hope to change the world,” he says.

The painting itself embodies Sacha’s attempt to connect people to a better world through the hearts, minds and souls of children. Divided into four sections – Journey of Humanity represents the soul of the earth, the arrival of nature, humanity and the solar system.

Often involved in several children’s humanitarian projects, Sacha reveals that the pure spirit of the child is his muse. “The greatest gift we have ever been given is our childhood and yet we are told to leave it behind and move on. In reality we must do just the opposite, keep the spirit of the child alive in us.”

One of the most celebrated artists, Sacha has raised millions of dollars for charities across the world. Humble, chatty and easy-going, he says, he is more invested in the journey of creating art than in the product itself. This means he is so completely immersed while painting that everything else takes backstage, including eating and sleeping. “I am in a trance painting for 17 hours at a stretch, [often] sleeping only after four days. So while doing this project I have ruptured two discs in my spine and disengaged my ankles,” he says.

Perhaps the only artist to have his brain scientifically studied revealing that it goes into a theta state of deep surrender, Sacha taps into his subconscious mind to create what he calls ‘magical realism’.

Severely dyslexic as a child, it was art that helped him overcome his learning disability. At Eton, where he counts Prince William as one of his friends, he was given a porta cabin filled with easels and paint brushes at the age of 14. “It changed my life. I took out all my frustration on canvas. From the bottom of my class I went on to do Masters in Art from Oxford,” he says.

With a slew of prestigious projects to his name, studios in four mega cities of the world and a high-profile friends list, Sacha still values humility as the top quality of a great artist. “If an artist does not live a life of grace, treating everyone – from the janitor to the king as the same – then whatever they create has no poignancy and meaning.

“At the time of a pandemic,” Sacha says, “it has become more evident that humanity is one – it does not matter what colour creed or social background we are from. We owe it to the people who lost their lives to Covid to paint the world in a different colour.”

What kids who submitted works say

“Our school teacher asked us to make a picture on how we were feeling. I miss not seeing my family.” – Rajesh, 7, from India

“Suddenly we had to just be at home, we need to be with our friends. It has been lonely for me.” – Veronique, 16, from Quebec

“I sat together whilst Nabil was making his painting and I found I was crying. This has been a very hard time for us all, but still the children give us strength and courage and light.” – Mother of Nabil, 4, from Syria

“I hope I can see my painting on Burj Khalifa.” – Rashid, UAE, 10

“I don’t like Covid because my mummy has to work in the hospital and I am scared she will get sick.” – Emma, UK, 6

“I saw on the TV this painting so large. Here is my drawing for you. I hoping I see my picture on your website. I am looking each day.” – Mbale, Nigeria, 12

(Children can uploaded their entries on on the themes of isolation and connection until October 31.)

Read more