Uz Sheiky’s artistic debut in Shoreditch

Last week, my colleagues and I had the pleasure of attending the artistic debut of Uz Sheiky, a Shoreditch-based visual artist at London’s Rich Mix. Having seen a few of his paintings beforehand which piqued my interest, I was eager to better acquaint myself with Uz’s works, as well as the man himself. With Rich Mix being only a stone’s throw away from our office,  I could think of no better excuse for a cultural soiree in the ‘Ditch.

Commodities trader by day and artist extraordinaire by night, Sheiky is a man clouded in mystery with an aversion to being pigeon-holed or stereotyped. Making no mention of his origins, background, or artistic approach, he’s one who definitely doesn’t like to play things by the book, and who thrives on ambiguity. As Sheiky says of himself, ‘he makes a conscious attempt that you don’t get a chance to judge him’ – and is quite successful in doing so. Despite being one who quickly judges others based on first impressions (gut feelings never lie), I couldn’t quite form a clear and coherent judgement of this lean, swanky bohemian, which only made me more interested in delving deeper into his art, and having a chat with him.

[quote_left] ‘He lives two lives, sometimes even more. He thinks we all do, but that some just fail to admit it’ – Uz Sheiky [/quote_left]

Having myself studied something I wasn’t particularly fond of, while pursuing my real passions (literature, music, and art) at night, I could instantly relate to Sheiky’s predicament. As he makes it quite clear, Sheiky’s role as a commodities trader in a world of ‘calculation, computers, numbers, and markets’ is financially-driven, and is what –  for the time being – allows him to fulfil his aspirations as a budding artist. However, while his daytime profession is a source of frustration for this creative soul, it also serves as an impetus and muse for his artistic exploits. Looking at a peculiar painting of his which at first I thought was his portrayal of Muhammad Ali, he explained to me that the boxer-like figure painting the cell bars was in fact himself, in an attempt to add some vibrancy to his dull world of ‘red, green, and black’.

This painting aside, clearly depicting Sheiky’s internal struggles and the contrast between his ‘two lives’, the others boasted a strong Eastern influence, especially with respect to music, mysticism, and poetry. I had seen his painting of the two whirling Mowlavi dervishes a while back, which was what specifically prompted me to attend the show (being a mystic myself), and although I wasn’t intent on purchasing anything that night, I was nonetheless saddened to see that it had already been sold! I also loved his painting of an old man surrounded by Baba Bulleh Shah’s (the renowned 18th Century Punjabi poet and philosopher)  mystical verse in Nastaligh calligraphy, which I, being Persian, made a feeble attempt to read. Luckily, however, Sheiky was kind enough to provide his translation of the poem beside the painting, which made it all the more poignant:

What Do I Know Who I Am?Bulleh, I know not who I am.

I am not in the holy books,
Not in drug nor drink.
Not in the drunkard’s wasted intoxication,
Not in wakefulness or sleep.
Bulleh, I know not who I am!

I am not in the mosque of the believer,
Nor in false rites.
I am not in the pure or the impure.
Neither I am Moses nor Pharaoh.
Bulleh, I know not who I am!

All in all, I’m glad I had the opportunity to familiarize myself with the work of this talented, mysterious, and surprisingly humble artist. Not only did I uncover yet another of Shoreditch’s myriad gems while have a merry time chatting to countless strangers over a never-ending glass of Rosé, but I also made a friend. I can only wish him the best in his struggle to smash the fetters of his insipid daytime existence, and release the budding artist within.

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