Abu Dhabi: For the past decade the iconic painting of the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan has been a landmark in Abu Dhabi, located on the corniche at the corner of Emirates Palace.
The painting portrays the side of Shaikh Zayed that earned him respect: humble, traditional, authoritative and loyal. This larger than life 35-metre display towers over the city of Abu Dhabi.
Its painter, Liaqat Ali Khan, was a long-time resident of Abu Dhabi and this was his masterpiece and his personal legacy to a country that has transformed his life.
As Khan turned 60, he bid Abu Dhabi farewell and ventured back to his native Pakistan in April.
Having painted 1,060 portraits of the UAE’s prinicipal founder, Khan put his brushes away and said an an emotional goodbye.
But as the sun beat down on the decade-old painting with its fading colours and chipped paint, Abu Dhabi started calling back its artist for a final touch-up of his masterpiece.
Khan could not resist the offer to come back.
“I was so happy when I got a phone call from Abu Dhabi Municipality and immediately said yes. I didn’t even think about it.”
Since July 29, Khan has been sitting on a plastic chair overlooking the painting directing two men on a crane.
“This is much harder than when I first painted this. In 1997 I painted this in a warehouse and I had 12 workers,” he says.
For the past week, Khan has been spending 12 hours a day redoing the painting.
“We took all the paint off and then repainted everything,” Khan says, while holding a large poster of the original photograph of Shaikh Zayed that inspired the painting. “This will probably be good for at least five more years and then the paint will be affected by the humidity and heat again, but I would love to come back again in five years,” he laughs.
His reputation preceded him to Pakistan and he has become a much celebrated artist in his hometown.
Asked why he loves this picture so much, Khan answers without a pause. “It reflects who Shaikh Zayed was, his smile was from his heart.”