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Freetown is depicted with a Kimberley Process diamond on a huge ‘Portrait of the Earth’… artist hopes to sell it, then make a difference to Sierra Leone with the proceeds

A British artist who spent two and a half years in his garage creating an enormous 330,000 piece ‘Portrait of the Earth’ mosaic artwork is trying to sell it on the eBay auction website for £100,000 (US$152,000) . or

virtually any reasonable offer . and aims to make a difference to Sierra Leone with the proceeds.

The artwork includes 1,238 gemstones which depict the Earth’s towns and cities. A non-conflict Kimberley process diamond – the only diamond on the artwork – has been used to represent a city long associated with blood diamonds . Freetown, Sierra Leone. The placing of this diamond was a deliberate act by the artist, Chris Chamberlain, 49, a resident of London and a computer programmer. He is married to a Sierra

Leonean, Theodora Nana Djang, who was brought up in Freetown, and he has visited Sierra Leone 4 times.

Chamberlain aimed to highlight to the world how much Sierra Leone has moved on from its civil war of more than a decade ago, and is now, according to the Global Peace Index, ranked 52nd most peaceful country in the world and therefore is, by this measure, more peaceful than the USA, China and Brazil. Sierra Leone is also ranked number 2 in the world in the CIA’s World Factbook list of countries by GDP growth rate for 2012.

Chamberlain reckons his illuminated stained glass micromosaic, which is 3.2 meters wide by 2.2m tall (10’ 6” x 7’ 3”) and painstakingly interpreted from NASA satellite photos, is the first of its kind in the world.

 

The artwork was on public display at the ROA gallery in London’s prestigious West End. Richard Long, a Turner Prize winner in 1989 and a nominee a record 4 times, saw it and wrote: “Amazing and absolutely stunning. Too good to stay in a studio!” And in spite of having a Chinese mother who’s a painter, musician, calligrapher and singer, he has almost no art training. The piece, titled ‘Jewel of the Universe’ in homage to the Earth, is the first artwork he’s ever made. Its glass took 6 months to cut by hand. To achieve high resolution, each piece needed to be around 20 times smaller than a normal mosaic tile

In total Chamberlain made around 3 kilometers of glass cuts – more than the combined height of the world’s five tallest skyscrapers, or the length of 28 soccer pitches. ‘I can’t paint, I can’t draw’ he said, ‘but I eckon I can cut glass.’

He then glued the pieces one by one onto a thick sheet of perspex – as sometimes used in bulletproof glass –with a pair of tweezers. Rivers like the Mississippi, Yangtze, Ganges, Nile and Amazon are depicted with hundreds of turquoisecoloured glass pieces, each the size of a grain of rice. 337 pieces were used just for the Mississippi and its tributaries. 1,238 jewels totalling 260 carats – including topaz, amethysts and sapphires – indicate cities in 176 countries. The cities include Freetown, Lagos, Conakry, Accra, Monrovia, Beijing, Shanghai, Dubai, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow and Hong Kong. Rubies and emeralds mark spiritual centres like Jerusalem and Mecca.

Chamberlain – who frequently suffered eye strain and even became ambidextrous to avoid RSI – then took 6 months to make its frame from 80,000 pieces of black stained glass, and lit it from inside with 6,912 LEDs.

Why create it? ‘Since visiting Sierra Leone 11 years ago, right after its civil war, I vowed to help it – in my own creative way,’ said Chamberlain. ‘Tried twice and failed. Then divine inspiration struck: why not make a huge artwork, a new type of art, in praise of what may well be the most wonderful planet in the universe, and try to make it attractive enough that someone would invest a good amount of money in it? Chris added: ‘And if it sells, if I’m offered just a fraction of what I’m asking, then I’ll use the money to start a fair trade arts co-operative in Sierra Leone.’

‘The buyer’s welcome to head out there with me and join in. We’ll make world-class artworks like this one, using this new technique, exhibit and sell them around the world and help rebrand Sierra Leone.’

Jewel of the Universe’ is on eBay until the 12th of March. What of the future? ‘I’d love to be part of creating a museum of modern art in Freetown’ said Chamberlain. Like a budget version of the Guggenheim Bilbao.’  ‘It’s one of the last places on Earth people would expect that . so it just might work. Done right, marketed right, it could bring in tens of thousands of tourists.’

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