Portraits of leading Muslims (and President Obama) by Sacha Jafri for Prince Charles

Jafri hopes to raise up to $5 million for one of the Prince of Wales’s charities


The British artist Sacha Jafri is painting 19 large portraits of influential Muslims which will be auctioned next year to raise money for the Mosaic Initiative, a charity set up by the Prince of Wales in 2007 to work with young people in the most deprived areas of Britain.

The ambitious project has the backing of major international sports stars and royal families in the Middle East. Each Muslim who is painted as part of the cycle will be asked to donate an item of “personal significance” which will be affixed to his or her portrait.

The French-Algerian footballer Zinedine Zidane, who led his team to World Cup victory in 1998 and describes himself as a “non-practising Muslim”, has pledged an item, perhaps his football boots, the boxer Muhammad Ali will give a pair of his boxing gloves, Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricketer turned politician, will give a cricket bat and Hicham El Guerrouj, the Moroccan runner and Olympic gold medallist, will give an item such as his running spikes.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, the Emir of Qatar and his wife, members of the Saudi royal family and of the ruling families of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah (including Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister for Foreign Trade for the United Arab Emirates and the first woman to hold a cabinet position in the UAE) will also be painted and asked to contribute an item of memorabilia.

Muslims from the music and entertainment industries will include Yusuf Islam, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, who starred in “Doctor Zhivago” and “Lawrence of Arabia”, the Bollywood actor and director Aamir Khan, as well as US rappers Ice Cube, Snoop Dog, Busta Rhymes and Coolio.

According to Jafri, who lives in Dubai and is working on the Muslim portraits in a studio in Sharjah provided by the Al Qasimi ruling family, the portrait cycle is “aimed as a glorious celebration of the…depth of achievement, the spirit, the goodness and the pure positivity of Islam.”

Each eight-by-six foot canvas will be a “montage” of the subject’s life. As well as the personal items it will include newspaper clippings, narrative vignettes illustrating the subject’s greatest achievements and “a positive message [from] the Quran, helping people understand that [it] is about peace and has a basic message of ‘how to be a good human being’—just like any other religion,” says Jafri.

The artist says he will also paint President Obama as “an honorary Muslim” because he “has made serious and beneficial in-roads into repairing relations with the Muslim and Arab community.”

When Jafri, 32, has finished each portrait, he will ask the subject to complete it with his or her hand-print and signature.

The paintings will be displayed throughout the Middle East, in India, New York and London before they are auctioned. The artist says he hopes to raise “between $4 million and $5 million” for Prince Charles’s Mosaic Initiative.

“The idea is that someone will buy the [entire] collection. There are some great collectors [in the Middle East]. It will probably [go to] a royal family,” says Jafri.

The cause

The Mosaic Initiative’s main goal, according to managing director John O’Brien is to address the “poverty of aspiration” of young people living in deprived areas in Britain. “We work in areas where the majority of young people are Muslims but we don’t just support Muslims. We try to make them aware of the opportunities which can come through education and other activities,” he says. This is done by providing “mentoring experiences” from successful local businessmen.

To date the charity has worked with 3,000 young people in Yorkshire, Lancashire, the West Midlands, Leicester and London but aims to expand its reach if the necessary funding can be raised. “Sacha’s support is incredibly important to us,” says Mr O’Brien. A new Mosaic programme, launching this month, will provide mentors for young offenders in the three months before they are released from prison. When they come out, they will be given help in finding a job.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Portraits of leading Muslims (and President Obama) for Prince Charles'