Sunday, January 4, 2009

A knock-out performance by Mohammed Ali

Graffiti art and eloquent Islamic calligraphy has never looked so beautiful in Melbourne CBD, writes Nisa Terzi

Breathing heavily, Mohammed Ali stood there, arms wide open, staring at what he accomplished. He clasped his rich dark hands behind his head, interlocking his fingers. It was almost as if he could hear the crowd roaring. He had made it - again.

But Mohammed Ali is no boxer. He is an urban Islamic Graffiti artist. Known as Aerosol Arabic, Ali was born and raised in Birmingham UK, a true Brummie as he likes to call himself. He’s a graffiti artist which he mastered since the early eighties.

“I aim to use the art that I do to try and bring about positive change,” says Ali. “When I’m working with kids in street corners or when I travel to parts of the developing world, I hope that through my art I may be able to help enhance their condition, perhaps get them to think about things they would not normally think about.”

Ali has been involved with the arts from a young age but only found his passion through rediscovering his faith where he started to incorporate Islamic concepts and script within his art. He has since pioneered what he calls “urban spiritual art,” a fusion between urban street graffiti and eloquent Islamic script.

“Graffiti and Islamic script marries itself very beautifully in the way both art forms are focused on the word and the script itself. It’s like a hand in a glove, it makes so much sense,” describes Ali.

Much of Ali’s work depicts universal principles of peace, knowledge and patience — concepts that cross faiths and cultures.

“When I went to New York I painted a wall on a street corner in the Bronx, almost in the shadow of the World Trade Centre. It was great. People from all over New York came to see the mural — Americans, Muslims, non-Muslims, black and white. It spoke to all people.”
In a time where people are bombarded with negative images of war, terror and racism, Ali talks of peace and unity.

“To me visual art is an alternative way of expression that tries to reach out to people. My art celebrates spirituality; it’s far from being provocative and controversial. Instead of art that shakes the bridge, my art aims to build bridges.”

Ali was invited by the City of Melbourne to collaborate with Crooked Rib, an exhibition as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival exploring the issues of 14 young Muslim artists expressing what it means to be young, female and living in Melbourne.

“One thing that was absolutely mind blowing was specifically the urban arts scene here, that just blew me away,” says Ali. “I went to one of the laneways in Melbourne and I was there looking at the art. Then I saw a school group with a teacher of about forty kids there and I thought what’s going on? The teacher was showing the art and talking about the graffiti.”

“The person next to me said that it was normal and that schools often had regular visits for art classes. I don’t think there is anywhere in the globe that has embraced the Urban arts scene as much as Melbourne. School visits, that’s unbelievable!”

Ali’s visit to Australia will end with a mural which is part of the street art project component of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. The mural will have the title “a thirst for change” and will address the issue of drought in Australia.

“I couldn’t understand why they chose the mural to be in Spark Lane as no one can see it,” says Ali. “Whenever I paint walls in anywhere around the city it’s usually on a main junction that people would see. I thought it wasn’t quite ideal. But now I understand. It’s perfect. It’s so refreshing to see that urban and graffiti art has been embraced by the people and city of Melbourne.”

The street art project was an exciting component of this year’s Melbourne International Arts Festival and is supported by the City of Melbourne and The British Council in Australia. The Mural by Aerosol Arabic can be seen in Spark Lane between Exhibition and Spring Street in Melbourne CBD.