Expo 2020 Dubai: Meet the autistic Emirati featured in official theme song

His art mentor said those precious seconds of recognition has done wonders for his self-confidence

The appearance of an autistic Emirati artist in the official Expo 2020 Dubai theme song has got various communities across the city — from the arts fraternity to the people of determination — celebrating the memorable moment.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, Abdullah Lutfi said he is on cloud nine after being featured in the video announcing the ‘world’s greatest show’. Not only did it portray him as a regular talented artist from Dubai, but it also made him feel honoured to be featured along some of the biggest stars from the Arab world, such as Emirati singer Hussain Al-Jassmi and American-Lebanese Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Mayssa Karaa.

Abdulla — who goes by the artistic signature ‘A.L.’ — is a dynamic, well-established Emirati artist. He has been creating art since he was a child and used drawing as a means of communicating before he could even speak.

In the Expo video, Lutfi is featured for about 10 seconds, where he is shown working on a canvas and walking around the venue, marvelling at the beautiful structures. But the 28-year-old and his art mentor Gulshan Kavarana said those precious seconds of recognition has done wonders for his self-confidence.

Relishing the big on-screen occasion, Abdulla said: “I am so grateful to my country for giving me this opportunity to make my family and friends proud of me by featuring me on this massive platform. I feel so confident and want to work harder now to make my country and community proud. This, for me, also proves that being a person of determination is not a drawback if you are living in an inclusive country like the UAE.”

Talking about the VIP treatment he was given at the Expo site while the video was being shot, he recalled: “It was absolutely amazing to be treated like a celebrity there. I was ushered in by a team of volunteers, provided with a vanity van, food of my choice and trendy clothes, just like the celebrities get.

“I was then given a canvas and a free hand to draw the buildings and characters of my choice,” he continued. “And although I drew my characters with only a black marker, as black and white is my art style, it was amazing to see how my characters were given rainbow colours and brought to life in the video using digital technology.”

As an artist on the autistic spectrum, Abdulla sees and interprets the world in a unique, non-conventional way. As a person of determination, he believes his art is particularly important in its contribution to society, as it allows him to communicate a view of the world that is frequently not represented.

The youngster is well-known for his amazing memory, attention to detail, and the spontaneity he brings to his work. He regards art as his connection to the world around him.

Expo 2020 Dubai: Meet Abdulla Lutfi, the artist and person of determination featured in official theme song (https://www.khaleejtimes.com/assets/jpg/KT30457929.JPEG)

Abdulla currently works at his art studio, NEXT Chapter, at Tashkeel, Al Fahidi alongside Gulshan, who has been working with him since the beginning of his formal art journey in 2010.

Gulshan was the first to spot his talent and became dedicated to helping him find his artistic voice. As his mentor, she guides him through the planning and executing of his work, organises his professional life, and challenges him to grow as an individual.

“The Expo has given Abdullah a lot of exposure and my phone has not stopped ringing since the release of the official theme song video. My inbox too is flooded with companies requesting to work with Abdullah,” Gulshan told Khaleej Times.

Expo 2020 Dubai: Meet Abdulla Lutfi, the artist and person of determination featured in official theme song (https://www.khaleejtimes.com/assets/jpg/KT30458929.JPEG)

Talking about Abdulla’s artwork at the Expo, she said: “The Expo team approached Abdulla about two years ago. They shared some renditions of what the site would look like, which they wanted him to feature in his paintings. Abdulla observed them and created his own version of those buildings.”

Gulshan says she watched the Expo video countless times after it was realised. “What’s incredible is that the Expo team gave Abdullah such a massive platform without even mentioning a word about him being on the autism spectrum. That beautiful gesture in itself speaks volumes about the value the UAE gives its people. I love this country for being the most inclusive in the world.”

She now invites the world to see it for themselves. “Come to Expo 2020 Dubai and see how inclusive it is for all. They have made it especially accessible for people of determination. They even have quiet rooms for people on the autism spectrum. There is so much happening for the hearing and visually impaired — and the site is very accessible for wheelchair users too. The world should come to the UAE and see what inclusivity means.”


Saman Haziq

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