Oman: Experiments

Contemporary Artists from Oman

Catalogue of the Imago Mundi Collection: Experiments (2016) by Contemporary Artists From OmanImago Mundi


In 2014, the Muscat Daily, Oman’s main newspaper, published among the symbolic photos of the year that of a woman, wearing sunglasses and with her face covered by the veil, driving an SUV, under the amusing title: “Look who’s at the wheel.” It is an important sign of change in a country that has altered greatly in the last 40 years, including its name and its flag. It is also a recognition of the role of women in society, because women, through their participation in social and political life, have contributed to bringing Oman into the future.

Mohammed Hussain Al Hajri - Oman In Golden Ratio, Mohammed Hussain Al Hajri, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Mohammed Hussain Al Hajri - Oman In Golden Ratio (2016)

A decisive role was played by the Sultanate’s investments in education, because allowing women to study has enabled many of them to enter the workplace at all levels. In the seventies, less than 13 per cent of women went to school, now that number is almost 50 per cent. And in the age group between 15 and 44 years, only 3.5 per cent are illiterate.

Nouf Khalifa Al Azzani - Identity, Nouf Khalifa Al Azzani, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Nouf Khalifa Al Azzani - Identity (2016)

In general terms, Oman – a sultanate of about three million inhabitants located in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf – has over a thousand state schools, in addition to more than 400 private schools and 30 international institutions, where the country’s young people – more than 80 per cent of the population is under the age of 30 – can prepare for life and the future.

Maryam Mohammed Al Amri - Calligraphy, Maryam Mohammed Al Amri, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Maryam Mohammed Al Amri - Calligraphy (2016)

And Oman, the Magan of ancient Mesopotamian texts, a legend for enthusiasts of One Thousand and One Nights familiar with the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, looks to the future with the passion and the courageous, ground- breaking spirit that has spearheaded many successes and many rebirths.

Samar Al Kaabi - Omani Women 1, Samar Al Kaabi, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Samar Al Kaabi - Omani Women 1 (2016)

Oman, in fact, experienced several centuries of isolation before embracing the Islamic faith, enduring the domination of Portugal (attracted by the country’s position on trade routes), and flourishing under the dynasty of Ya’aruba, followed by the Sultanate of Said bin Sultan (in the mid-nineteenth century). Under his leadership, the country rapidly achieved imperial dimensions and prestige, controlling certain African territories on the east coast and the island of Zanzibar.

Asma Abdulaziz Kulaib - Al Masheir, Asma Abdulaziz Kulaib, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Asma Abdulaziz Kulaib - Al Masheir (2016)

Since ancient times Oman has played a key role in the exchange of goods, people, ideas and cultures, becoming a cultural and commercial intermediary with the countries of the Indian Ocean, China and the Mediterranean. While today about 80 per cent of the economy is based on the extraction and sale of oil, Oman believes the future could lie, above all, in the sustainable tourism business. So they are building roads, airports and a rail network, but without excesses of concrete and steel for here – like Islam itself – everything is gentle and moderate, including the architecture. Buildings do not exceed the height of the minarets, for example. Regulations exist that require new structures to have traditional elements, such as a dome or timber-framed windows. The natural ingredients for the success of tourism, moreover, are all here. Its magnificent, imposing mountains are reminiscent of the early days of creation in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey; ochre desert dunes and unbounded flatlands occupy 80 per cent of the country (around 310,000 square kilometres); and its ancient and bustling capital Muscat was elected Tourist Capital of the Arab world in 2012 by the tourism ministers of the Arab League. Surrounded by mountains and the Jalali and Mirani forts built in the sixteenth century during Portuguese occupation, Muscat offers white palaces and sand- colored houses, the domes of mosques, a labyrinth-like souk and the waters of its old port are criss-crossed by dhows, the traditional wooden boats of the Arabian Peninsula. The capital is also home to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, inaugurated in 2001, with a capacity to accommodate twenty thousand worshipers, and the Royal Opera House, opened in 2011, which testifies to the Omani love for music and ballet.

Samiya Salim Suliman - Monologues, Samiya Salim Suliman, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Samiya Salim Suliman - Monologues (2016)

The Daymaniyat Islands Nature Reserve, and its pristine reef, about ten miles off the coast of the city of Barka (60 kilometres west of Muscat) reserve endless splendours for visitors. Wonders can be seen both above and below the waters; the visitor can witness the passage of migratory birds in the skies and encounter sea turtles emerging from the sea to lay their eggs in the sands.

Laila Abdullah Al Moqbalia - The Sunset, Laila Abdullah Al Moqbalia, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Laila Abdullah Al Moqbalia - The Sunset (2016)

At Expo 2015 in Milan, the Omani pavilion was inspired by the theme of sustainability and conservation. At its entrance, a sundial, with some stones placed along its surface, told the story of the precise water distribution method used in antiquity in its villages. Each community was allocated an hour of the day, corresponding to the time when the shadow of the sundial reached the stone symbolizing their village, testimony to the country’s strong tradition in water resource management, to which the first section of the Pavilion, “Exploit every drop of water”, was dedicated. Oman’s main water source is the khareef, the summer monsoon which, crossing the Indian Ocean, feeds the aflaj, an ancient irrigation system created by a dense network of canals and dams that dates back more than 2,000 years and is included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Yousra Salim Mohammed Maqabil - Door Therathi, Yousra Salim Mohammed Maqabil, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Yousra Salim Mohammed Maqabil - Door Therathi

The water enables the irrigation of traditional Omani crops, including hazelnuts and roses (used both for rose water and the Amouage fragrance, created by Guy Robert, the renowned perfumer of Grasse) in the mountainous region of Jebel Akhdar, and the date palm, at the heart of Omani tradition, which is currently being re- established through the project “One million date palm trees” that is expected to be completed by 2025.

Said Saleh Al Sulaimi - We Are One, Said Saleh Al Sulaimi, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Said Saleh Al Sulaimi - We Are One (2016)

In ancient times, much of the Sultanate’s fame came from the production and trade of frankincense, in which the ports of Khor Rori and Al Baleed, now UNESCO World Heritage Sites, played a strategic role. Marco Polo, in fact, mentions the port of Al Baleed, where he made a stop on his trip to China. Both ports were of primary importance in the long-distance trade between the Mediterranean and the East thanks to their location in pre-desert areas where the best varieties of trees providing frankincense resin grow. The resin was stored in warehouses at the ports before embarking on long journeys by camel or boat to faraway destinations. Here, thanks to the campaign of excavations conducted by the University of Pisa, the most varied collection of incense burners of all of southern Arabia has been found, from the simplest incense burners, used in daily fumigation, to the more unusual models that demonstrate the skills of local artisans and their ability to absorb and reinterpret exemplars from different cultural traditions.

Said Ali Mohammed Alalawi - Old Wooden Door From Oman, Said Ali Mohammed Alalawi, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Said Ali Mohammed Alalawi - Old Wooden Door From Oman (2016)

In 2004, the Pisa archaeologists also began digging in Salut, in the north, near the city of Nizwa. These excavations have brought to light much of the structure of the site and have enabled the recovery of a significant quantity of materials. Bronze Age tombs have been excavated in Salut, but the settlement’s greatest splendour dates back to the Iron Age. Here something scholars consider to be unique in southeast Arabian archaeology has emerged, a small temple characterized by a platform of mortar on which six columns rested, arranged in two rows.

Yousuf Al Fowri - Untitled, Yousuf Al Fowri, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Yousuf Al Fowri - Untitled (2016)

This great heritage is the solid foundation upon which the Omani cultural identity is constructed. The country’s most important cultural institutions are found in Muscat, brought together under the supervision of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture: The Omani Museum, founded in 1974, which houses many objects of Islamic art, the National Museum (1978) and the Museum of Natural History (1983). In 2011, a collaboration was initiated with the Tate Gallery in London, which lent Oman six important paintings by Gainsborough, Stubbs, Constable, Turner, Millais and Sargent for The Art of Seeing Nature exhibition at the Sayyid Faisal bin Ali Museum in Muscat, a museum established in 2008 in a former theatre, with a focus on a significant collection of traditional weapons.

Hamed Aljabri - Impasse #1, Hamed Aljabri, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Hamed Aljabri - Impasse #1 (2016)

The role played by the Omani Society for Fine Arts continues to be strategic for the growth of contemporary art in Oman, which – as the director Maryam Abdulkarim Al Zadjaly writes in her introduction to this catalogue – has the duty to support “different artistic fields in Oman, in addition to showcasing the maturity and excellence of Omani art by taking part in biennials, triennials, and exhibitions held inside and outside Oman.”

Marwa Salim Al Nahdi - Arabian Falcon, Marwa Salim Al Nahdi, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Marwa Salim Al Nahdi - Arabian Falcon (2016)

Capitalizing on Oman’s attention for art, photography, calligraphy, sculpture, multimedia and graphics, Imago Mundi presents a significant collection of 160 10x12 cm works created by Omani artists from different backgrounds, including established names and young talents, women and men.

Muna Mohammed Al Balushi - The Omani Kanjar, Muna Mohammed Al Balushi, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Muna Mohammed Al Balushi - The Omani Kanjar (2016)

For the Imago Mundi project this is an important piece in the great mosaic of contemporary world art that is taking shape year after year. And for the artists of the Sultanate it provides an important opportunity to achieve visibility and at the same time promote the colors and poetry of Oman across the world.

Anwar Sulaiman Al Zadjali - The World In My Eye, Anwar Sulaiman Al Zadjali, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Anwar Sulaiman Al Zadjali - The World In My Eye (2016)

The paintings of landscapes, portraits of women, animals, architectural perspectives, traditional viewpoints, offer us a complex and somewhat surprising aesthetic universe, one that is not averse to forays into the abstract, leaps of innovation, Islamic spirituality, the magic of the Levant and visual experimentation.

Marwa Salim Al Nahdi - Arabian Falcon, Marwa Salim Al Nahdi, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Marwa Salim Al Nahdi - Arabian Falcon (2016)

The colors often seduce thanks to the deft completeness with which they saturate the eye and convey the piercing sweetness of sunset in the desert.
Such skill and creativity causes us to question whether what we are seeing is reality or a mirage. As Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “Unreality is a condition of art.”

Luciano Benetton

Abdulla Khamis Al Balushi - Sea Life, Abdulla Khamis Al Balushi, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Abdulla Khamis Al Balushi - Sea Life (2016)

Credits: Story


La Biennale di Malindi Ltd

Moataz El Safty
Maryam Abdulkarim Al Zadjaly

Oriano Mabellini

Barbara Liverotti
Giorgia De Luca

Enrico Bossan

Luciano Benetton
Moataz El Safty
Maryam Abdulkarim Al Zadjaly

Carlo Antonio Biscotto
Emma Cole
Valentina Granzotto
Chiara Longhi
Pietro Valdatta

Bianca Otilia Ghiuzan

Marco Zanin

Maryam Abdulkarim Al Zadjaly

Marco Pavan

Maryam Abdulkarim Al Zadjaly - Freedom

Fondazione Sarenco
Oksana Ignatush
Maryam Abdulkarim Al Zadjaly
Sami Khamis Al Hasani
Moussa Omar
Fahad Al Macki

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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