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Aerosol Arabic brings graffiti art to poetry at the Rep

Rebekah Oruye meets a Birmingham graffiti artist who is teaming up with international poets at the Rep.

Rebekah Oruye meets a Birmingham graffiti artist who is teaming up with international poets at the Rep.

Graffiti and poetry – perhaps not an obvious combination to exhibit during a live art show.

But one acclaimed Birmingham artist is sure the fusion of both art forms will impress viewers at his upcoming show at the Birmingham Rep theatre.

Graffiti Artist Mohammed Ali
Graffiti Artist Mohammed Ali

Graffiti artist Mohammed Ali, known to fans as Aerosol Arabic, will be joining forces with leading international poets for a one-off, live performance.

The 31-year-old has established himself on the international arts scene over the past decade and last year was awarded the 2009 ITV South Bank Show Awards’ Diversity award.

His thought-provoking artwork created a stir in Birmingham when he spray-painted a series of 13 murals across inner city areas, depicting images of war-torn Gaza.

Now the former graphic designer plans to “take art one step further” with a project that took four years to come into fruition.

“I had the idea for the show a few years ago and have been developing the concept of an audio/visual performance,” he said.

“I wanted it to be a unique experience, taking my graffiti further than I have ever done before. Yes I do murals on street corners and produce work for galleries but I began thinking about how to develop the art that I do.”

The father-of-two said his passion for words steered him into the partnership between poetry and spray-painting.

“I love poetry and have been fortunate enough to travel and meet a lot of great poets around the world,” he explained.

“Being a graffiti artist, I am inspired by the power of words and script.

“Orally, poetry plays with words and commutes this to the audience.

“I believe they fit together like a hand in a glove and bring more of an engaging experience to the audience.”

For the show Writing on the Wall, Mohammed teamed up with London-based theatre director Jonzi D and will work alongside Zena Edwards, who has been performing as a professional poet for the last nine years, and American poet Amir Sulaiman.

Also featuring on the line-up will be Dreadlock Alien, who was Birmingham’s Poet Laureate in 2006.

The night’s theme will be the power of three, which Mohammed described as a “strong” force within nature.

“A lot of things are associated in threes, peace, love and unity; birth, life and death; earth wind and fire; and the Holy Trinity,” he added. “I told the poets they can be flexible with their ideas along that theme and it will be interesting to see what they conjure up.”

Three of the four walls that Mohammed will paint on, will be demolished to make way for the new Birmingham Central Library. One wall, which will include work by children from local schools will remain and form part of the library.

“I have been asked whether I mind my work being destroyed after a few days. It is not an issue, as I feel it is a once-in-a-life time experience that will be captured by cameras.

“As for the permanent wall, I want it to reflect knowledge and education being near to library, so I will be looking to create something to inspire people to open their mind, learn and discover.”

Holding the show in Birmingham was crucial to Mohammed, who was born and raised in Sparkbrook.

He said: “I have been fortunate enough to create art in major cities across the globe, but here in the UK we have our own issues, ranging from the economic crisis to the problems that face multi-cultural societies.

“This is the most ambitious project in a mainstream venue that I have worked on to date and it was important to me that I come back to my own city.

“I’m hoping to create art that will inspire people with hope and positive change by bringing a bit of colour into some of the ugly conditions that exist in the world today. People should not underestimate the power of the arts in bringing people together.”

The show has already received mixed reviews from art fans, some of whom have reacted negatively to the idea of graffiti being portrayed as art.

A handful of comments were posted on the Birmingham Rep’s own website, accusing the show of being a “circus”.

Unfazed by the negative remarks, Mohammed said: “I have had a lot worse said about me. I have become used to a variety of responses.

“People associate graffiti with vandalism which is why it is all the more important they come and witness the show for themselves.

“I want people to come along and be challenged, but I’m not here to divide people. When the audience see my paintings they will know its about positivity.”

Raidene Carter, associate producer at the Rep said: “Mohammed Ali’s Writing on the Wall promises to be a ground-breaking theatrical experience for Birmingham audiences and we’re thrilled to be supporting an acclaimed local artist working alongside three internationally-renowned poets.

“The upcoming redevelopment of the theatre as part of the Library of Birmingham has given us a unique opportunity to host this performance in our Scenic Workshop.

“There are many ways to make a piece of theatre and our collaborations with poets, musicians, MCs, visual artists and writers, alongside more traditional theatre artists have pushed the boundaries of the experiences we create to inspire new audiences.”

Following the live event on Thursday, Mohammed will be hosting a free question and answer session Friday at 6.45pm at the Rep.

And the final piece will be available for public viewing free of charge, on Friday and Saturday and next Tuesday, January 26. Times will be limited each day, For more details call 0121 236 445..

 

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