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Looking at life with different eyes.

A rare genetic trait, an Omani princess in peril and a dashing British captain -- what's common 
to them? Kelly Clarke discovers an amazing story that will soon unfold in Sharjah

Artist Lindsay Seers is on the lookout for people in the UAE with heterochromia iridum -- those with differently coloured irises, a condition often described as a beautiful mutation.

With less than one per cent of the global population born with this rare genetic trait, Seers became fascinated with it, thanks to her grandmother.

"It all started with a photograph dated 1890 that my grandmother gave me," she says. "It had an uncle of hers standing among sailors on the deck of a ship."

Seers' father couldn't tell her much about the man, only that he had two differently coloured eyes.

Curious about this mysterious relative and instantly drawn to his distinctive, multi-coloured eyes, Seers dug a little deeper and discovered he was her great-great uncle, George Edwards, who was born on the same day as she was, only 100 years earlier, and served in the British navy.

From that first glance came a historical journey of discovery linked to the mysterious distant relative to a Middle Eastern princess. It is this story which has inspired her works for her upcoming UAE exhibition.

"I discovered he was born in 1866. Then I went to Zanzibar where the photo was taken and while digging through archives, I found another photograph dated 1901. It was of a tree with a ship's name, HMS Kingfisher, carved on it. That was the ship my great uncle was on," she says.

After searching around Zanzibar for the marked tree, she finally discovered it on an unpopulated island called Misali -- and next to the main carving were the initials, GE' -- most likely that of great-great uncle George Edwards.

Following her historical exploration, Seers produced several nautical-inspired installations for her London-based gallery. But it was that original photograph which took her to the story of an Omani princess, and it is that which brings her work to the Middle East.

Known to base her works on personal family connection, the exhibition will centre on the princess who was smuggled out of Zanzibar by a British naval captain.

In 1866, a captain on board the HMS Kingfisher -- the same ship Seers's great-great uncle worked on -- took the princess to Aden after fearing she would be executed for becoming pregnant.

"For my show in Sharjah I am using her biography. I have met the great grandson of the captain who saved the princess and have read her letters written to him after her arrival in Aden," she says

Incorporating film, photography, sculpture and writing, Seers likes to use complex yet seamless interweaving of historical research, autobiography and storytelling in her projects in an exploration of what creates our perception of truth.

"It was so strange. I started with an old photograph in a terraced council house in the UK and I ended up on an island in Tanzania," she says, adding that from forgotten histories emerge the most detailed stories.

For her upcoming Sharjah Art Foundation exhibition opening on November 1, Seers is on the lookout for people in the UAE to entwine their biography into the film.

"They need to have two differently coloured eyes -- this is because the way in which I work is with the use of doubling -- so a person can be many people."

So if you possess blue-greens or grey-browns, if you're part of that rare one per cent with heterochromia iridum, why not become part of the show?

The princess diary

Sayyida Salme, born in 1844, was the princess of Zanzibar and Oman. The daughter of Sultan Said bin Sultan Al-Busaid and a concubine, the exotic princess was the youngest of 36 siblings. While her brother taught her riding and shooting, she learned to read and write on her own at a time education was not accessible to women. Later she wrote a book, Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar.

When she was in her 20s she became impregnated by her neighbour, a German merchant, and escaped to Aden on a British frigate commanded by Captain Thomas Malcolm Sabine Pasley R.N.
She gave birth to a son in December 1866 and died a year later in France on the way to Germany.

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Jul 6, 2014
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