A Game of Tetras – Shaff Oceans

Monday 15th of November 2021

How long have you been working on that art piece? Have you had a bunch of alternative thoughts that have made you redo the tiniest detail in the process? Do you feel like you have not made any progress over the years? Well, congratulations! You tick all the boxes of becoming an authentic artist, says Ahmed Shaffan. 

The face behind Shaff Oceans shares his story of becoming one of the finest artists in the Maldives. It started in his household, among his brothers who were all keen artists. They used to compete against each other and Shaffan soon grew an interest in learning different techniques of pencil shading and so on to enhance his cartoon characters. The art crowd in the neighborhood was supportive too, giving him tips on how to improve whenever they drew together.

Shaffan painting in his studio

Shaffan's first public display of his work was in a national art competition he took part in while he was in Grade 9. Not surprisingly, he won first place and since then, his mother has always cheered him on to continue with his passion for creating. After school, Shaffan too applied to a bunch of jobs as typically expected from school leavers, but he had no luck with landing any. During this time, he was directed towards working in an art studio by one of his brothers.

The opportunity was a solid foundation to kick start his career. At the studio, Shaffan was working alongside the esteemed ‘Kurahaa Rappe’, a legendary artist in the Maldives. Shaffan has immense respect for his now good friend and mentor, Rappe for having guided him and taught him much of what he knows today.

To quote Shaffan, ‘Rappe has held my hand and taught me how to draw, and I am not ashamed to admit my appreciation for his support.’ With this statement, Shaffan intends to encourage people to own up to their progress and admit that at one point in time, even the smallest technical advice or productive criticism helped them improve. Your teacher does not necessarily have to make you read out of books and give you presentations and assignments to teach you something valuable. And appreciating those who become a part of your journey never diminishes your light.

 A mural by Shaffan

As an artist, Shaffan always wondered about how unconventional adjustments could make something ordinary into popping art. What if he changed a color, a shape, added a line or two, fused two objects together – the world is full of possibilities. Naturally, Shaffan is drawn towards vibrant colors, brightness makes up his palette. It reflects his outgoing and joyous personality and draws towards his inspiration – the natural beauty of the Maldives.

Belonging from a country that is deemed one of the most beautiful destinations on the planet, Shaffan wonders about what attracts people to his homeland. We as Maldivians lack the enthusiasm that travelers who spend affluently have to seek our infinite blue waters and the endless sky in the horizon. The island breezes that sway our palms and salinate the air makes this place home to us, but whimsical wonderland to foreigners. Hence, Shaff Oceans was born. Inspired by the Maldives, telling the story of a boy born into magic.

One of the most popular art pieces of Shaffan

Shaffan dreams of a day when Maldivian artists will receive the support they truly deserve for being as amazing and talented as they are. He personally works closely with the art community in the Maldives as the President of the Maldivian Artist Community and understands how challenging it is for them to make a career out of their passion. Imagine a Maldives so beautiful where people from around the world travel in hundreds of thousands to witness local art.

Bold art pieces by Shaffan, aimed to throw light on the underlying issues within the country

In the past couple of years, art has taken a new form in the Maldives. With social media providing ample exposure, artists from around the archipelago have gained confidence in making their work public. Shaffan believes that there are lost gems in our community who lacks the financial backing to make a breakthrough. There needs to be a solid system where international opportunities can be communicated in due time, platforms made accessible to display local art, and exhibitions organized with proper means to sell art. Even though art appreciation and viewing art has become trendy and popular, how does one expect a ‘struggling artist’ to make a living if he can’t sell his work?

 Find Shaffan’s art pieces at popup galleries

For the past two decades, Shaffan has been travelling around the world, finding inspiration from artistic corners of the world. His first solo exhibition was held in London, followed by in Maldives and Bhutan. He has had the opportunity to contribute significantly as an artist, one of his biggest projects being the artwork and murals he has done for CROSSROADS Maldives. He won the project by competing against international artists and he did so by elegantly fusing together the natural wonders of Maldives with the iconic Hard Rock musical ventures.

Some of Shaffan’s work at Hard Rock Hotel Maldives, including his largest mural so far

In between his gigs, Shaffan finds it hard to find a job as a source of income to make a living. A few years back at one such time, Shaffan crafted a wedding for one his friends. Since his artistry was implemented well into the decorations, the wedding setup turned out to be quite interesting for the audience. It did not take long for the word to spread among his friends and soon, Shaffan had growing demand as a wedding decorator.

It is amazing how much the wedding industry in the Maldives has evolved in the past decade. What was once a gathering of hundreds of people have now become intimate, private ceremonies that celebrate the couple and their loved ones bonding together in a marriage. While growing the wedding business, Shaffan and his cofounders focused on curating an experience for the couple that they can relate to and dream of reliving over and over again. Gobig today stands for quality wedding decorations and are known for the quality they maintain in their work.

 Team Gobig Maldives

When approaching an artist for work, always keep in mind that time in very valuable. If you are not willing to invest in the time that artists spend on crafting pieces for your requirements, you are not helping them in any way. This is the main reason why there are more struggling artists than those who are able to make a sustaining career out of it. Shaffan became creative in facing this challenge and every one of his pieces are authentic made for requirements. In other words, when Shaffan draws for a request, he leaves his original marks in it. In this regard, Shaffan advices all budding artists to do so too.

When you realize that you have artistic skills, that is the beginning of a potential career that lies ahead of you. It takes practice, failure, adjustments, experiments and more to decide that becoming an artist is what you want to do. Say, this is roughly five years. During this process, you learn how to play with color, details, your originality starts coming out from it. Then, you slowly start creating. Another five years gone. Shaffan emphasizes on giving it at least a decade to shape up yourself and become a real artist so if you have felt like you have been lacking, that is not the case. Go back and see the slow but actual progress you have made. It makes Shaffan proud to go through his work from 2000 and realize that he knew that certain technique back then. And it overwhelms him when he thinks about how much more there is to learn.

Shaffan draws inspiration from nature

The journey was not his alone. Shaffan has seen many people come and go, criticize, motivate, help, even challenge him in his career. At all stages, the sun has risen again to a brighter day with the real people sticking by his side. It is not like it takes a full-fledged support system to take you forward. Everyone needs just that one real person, it could be a friend or family member, to encourage you to not give up. He is thankful for the continued love he receives for his work that feeds his hunger. Shaffan is hungry to create, to tell stories people do not speak of, to break free with his art. So should you be with your passion to create if you want to become an artist.

Seek the right resources to advance in your pathway, suggests Shaffan. His strength has been in the relationships he has built with productive, like-minded people who wish to achieve similar goals as him.

It is basically like playing a game of Tetras. You see the problem approaching way ahead and so you take all the measures to shape it according to your timeline. Twist and turn but you decide where it fits in to. This is also tricky if you have piling pieces that are not in place. Relate it to real life and you realize that the sooner you get your tasks done, the less problems there are to deal with tomorrow. When it is game over, you could take some time off to cool your mind but when you come back to the game, you give it a couple of tries again. But this time, you are equipped with the technical knowledge of how to deal with that certain piece from your previous failed experiences.

So go ahead, ace this game of tetras we know as life. If you listen to Shaffan, it is all about forgetting your fear of not succeeding and giving the artist in you a chance to try. One more game of Tetras.