An installation by Emirati artist Jamal Habroush Al Suwaidi sees him depict one of the world’s best-known symbols of hospitality and welcoming gestures of friendship — the coffee bean. Taking the form of a multi-coloured, large-scale artwork, “The Coffee Beans” features seven metal components, each varying in shape, size and shade. Devoid of decorative or dynamic flourishes, its geometric simplicity gives the overall work a distinctive appearance, while ensuring that each separate piece is immediately identifiable. The decision to create seven beans is a nod to coffee’s recognition across the globe as an essential part of social occasions and as a universal sign of friendship.
Seven is not only the number of continents in the world — Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America — but also signifies the number of Emirates that make up the UAE. Created in an array of uplifting colours and sizes, the artwork acknowledges the differences in both the coffee beans that are used to make the drink and the people that populate the world, while reaffirming that we all form part of the human race, irrespective of where we live, sharing a common ground in our fondness for coffee.
Playing with composition, the artist uses distance and positioning to accentuate the relationship each component has with the others. Building on the theme and in another important symbolic display, the split in the middle of coffee beans reminds us that each continent acts as a gateway to another part of the world. We are all connected and none of us exists alone.
Al Suwaidi said he was keen to highlight coffee’s universally recognised role as a beverage enjoyed by families, friends and their guests. He also drew on his personal memories of what the bean means to the Arab World. “Coffee has been a symbol of generosity, warmth and friendship for centuries in this part of the world, deeply embedded in our culture and heritage, and now adopted in the same manner elsewhere.
“When creating this work, I was reminded not only of the many ways in which coffee is enjoyed around the globe, but also of the smaller details, such as its unmistakable aroma, either in the kitchen or from the lorries carrying the beans, as they pass through the villages of my country, and the ability it has to lift the mood.”
Al Suwaidi’s art arises from his relationship with the local environment of the UAE, the sea, mountains, desert and its life and the world of ships, all integrated harmoniously and endowed with abstraction. “Our culture and heritage have been a source of inspiration”, he says. “Forms and subjects such as oil, pearls, calligraphy, rhythm and sound, inspire almost all of my work. Arabic calligraphy is one of my favourites …
“When I was a student, I dreamt of creating art that highlights our cultural rich history. I am interested in combining the past and the future of our heritage …
“I travel a lot to understand other cultures, their lives, environment and inspiration behind art. I want to experience the classical, the modern and the contemporary. Travelling has made me realise that an artist bears a responsibility to create bridges between different cultures through his art.”
The word “coffee” entered the English language in 1582 via the Dutch “koffie,” borrowed from the Ottoman Turkish “kahve,” in turn borrowed from the Arabic “qahwa.”
Arabic coffee is ingrained in Middle Eastern and Arab culture and tradition. It originated in the Middle East, beginning in Yemen, travelling to Makkah (Hejaz), Egypt, the Levant and then, in mid-16th century, to Turkey and from there to Europe, where it eventually became popular as well. Arabic coffee is an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Arab States, affirmed by UNESCO. Coffee in the UAE is traditionally served in a long spouted jug or ‘dallah’. It is served black or brewed, often with cardamom and saffron. Sometimes accompanied with dates, dried fruit and nuts, it is etiquette to serve elders first. Small, handless cups, are filled a quarter of the way to the top.
The UAE is one of the most developed coffee shop markets in the Middle East, with Dubai a focal point of the region’s coffee innovation. Western brands such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Costa Coffee and Starbucks, flourish here. Al Suwaidi’s artistic journey started at a young age, when he was fourteen, as he began taking part in art competitions. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the Sharjah Art Institute and took courses in drawing, sculpting and ceramics. He also attended workshops in the UAE (Sharjah Art Institute and Abu Dhabi University), France and Switzerland. He won an award for his creativity at Abu Dhabi University, in 2010. He counts many masters in sculpture and calligraphy, among his inspirations. His works are included in numerous collections, including Dubai International Airport; the Olympic Museum, Switzerland and Lepsien Art Foundation, Germany, among others. “The Coffee Beans” series is included in the permanent collection of The National Art Museum of China. The museum is dedicated to showcasing the latest Chinese artistic achievements as well as the creations of international artists, promoting global artistic dialogue and exchange.