Convergent | Divergent
The national tree of United Arab Emirates is a resilient desert plant, revered throughout India, Western and Southeast Asia as well as the Middle East. Known as the Ghaf tree in the Emirates, it is drought tolerant, evergreen and native to the desert. The socio-cultural and religious significance of the tree varies from region to region, but perhaps part of its enigma stems from the rarity of its ability to be cultivated, with only one in 5 000 seeds withstanding insect attack and taking root.
Convergent and its sister sculpture Divergent explore the various aspects of the significance of this plant throughout history and as we project into the future. Rapid urbanisation in recent years, meant that entire groves of ghaf trees were flattened in order to accommodate new infrastructure throughout the emirates. A geological region so absolutely defined by the rolling desert dunes, and scarcity of water, the Emirates could not afford to lose this important soil enriching, erosion buffering vegetation. It is now illegal to cut down a ghaf, and the government has dedicated a significant amount of resources into the preservation cultivation and proliferation of ghaf groves. The cultural importance of this tree is being reiterated in order to remind an increasingly globalised, urban population of the importance of both their cultural heritage and their future legacy.
The ghaf tree requires little water to grow, it’s roots can extend further than 30 meters into the earth, and their spread ensures that the land it occupies is protected against weather erosion. The nitrogen fixing qualities of the plant, enrich the soil, allowing for other water-sparing desert vegetation to take root beneath its canopy. Using only 10 litres of water a day, the leafy ghaf tree provides sustenance to desert animals, and its branches, historically, made excellent firewood for the nomadic people for the region, it’s bark was ground into flour from which cakes were made in times of food scarcity, and it’s sap was used for a number of traditional purposed.
Widely considered a medicinal plant, the ghaf was traditionally used as a folk remedy to treat a wide variety of ailments including: rheumatism, scorpion sting and snakebite, prevention of miscarriage, asthma, bronchitis, dysentery, leucoderma, leprosy, muscle tremors, piles, and wandering of the mind.
Standing 12 meters tall, it’s laser cut steel profiles reaching up, yawning to describe the central arch of it’s trunk and the core of it’s canopy and then converging at its height, Convergent speaks to the present moment where the past and the future meet. A canopy of delicate branches embellished with subtly truncated calligraphic foliage, blooms from the quiet eye at its centre. Fixed, standing tall and still, this monolithic object represents permanence, resilience and stillness. The arching portal at the heart of the trunk’s structure, not only echoes traditional Arab architecture, but also suggests transition, journey and passage. Known for their longevity, (the oldest ghaf is known as the tree of life and is 400 years old) the tree is a symbol, the distillation of numerous lifetimes unassumingly contained within one growing object. It holds in its structure, a sense of heritage, identity, environmental promise, and social history.
It is this distillation that Divergent expands upon, breaking the symbol into its component parts, fracturing its density across physical space into discreet elements, each simultaneously representative of a moment in time past or still to come. Its multi-axial waving curves speak to the enduring quality of the ghaf tree whilst the canopy branches out along the central axis, in opposite directions, as if everything to the right and left of the centre reach out into the past, and future respectively. The ghaf tree here is elevated as an icon, encapsulating a social and cultural heritage that is inextricable from the land, it’s ecological wellbeing and the legacy that will be inherited by future generations of Emirati’s.