Arab drawings by a Brazilian
From engravings and installations to the design of a mosque, the work of the São Paulo-born architect and artist Sami Akl carries the influence of Lebanon. His work and exhibits are testament to his connection with the land and culture of his father.
São Paulo – As a child, São Paulo city native Sami Akl started making drawings, and his father decided that he should spend time living in Lebanon in order to learn the language and culture of his family. Years later, those two events conflated. Akl became an architect and artist, and he incorporated Arab influence into his work.
He is passionate about drawing and believes the art form speaks to people’s subconscious minds. “The power of drawing is there whenever people feel a connection with it, whenever it brings back a memory,” he says. Akl always preferred to express himself through drawings. “I express myself in drawings, it’s my language. A powerful, mysterious language,” he muses.
Indeed, drawings became a part of life and work for Akl, who also does architecture, painting, sculpture and furniture design. Besides having exhiibited several times in Brazil, he has also showed his work in the United States and Germany.
Akl has fond memories from the year-and-a-half he spent in Lebanon. He learned Arabic as a six-year-old and remains a fluent speaker until this day. He used to attend a mosque at the Bekaa Valley. Now aged 56, Akl says he believes in god, but does not see himself as a religious man.
Because he interacted with the Muslim community in Brazil since 1986, four years after graduating, Akl was invited by government officials from Iran (a non-Arab country in the Middle East) to build the first ever – and still the only – Shiite mosque in São Paulo, located in the Brás neighborhood.
“[Ayatollah] Khomeini sent two sheikhs to Brazil and they started acquainting themselves with the local Arab community. My father, who was a Muslim, mentioned that his son was an architect, and they wanted a Muslim’s son to design the mosque,” he recalls.
The project took almost a year to complete. For the job, besides tapping into recollections from his visits to the mosque back in Lebanon, Akl bought a book of international designs for reference. “I bought an imported book about mosques from around the world and I borrowed from it whatever I found interesting, whatever resonated with me,” he explains.
For Akl, the time spent in his father’s land was important in order for him to grasp the importance of the temple for Muslims. “When time came to build, my taste was deeply attuned with Islamism, aesthetics-wise,” he claims.
The mosque’s design wasn’t the only project where his Arab influences came into play. Other works by Akl reveal his origins, including a metal engraving of a follower of Sufism, a mystical subset of Islam, and the installation Pilares do Islã (Pillars of Islam), presented in 1997 at the São Paulo Cultural Center.
Currently, Akl spends most of his art-making time doing paintings with collages. To see his work, go to www.samiakl.com.
*Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum