Gdynia is miles away from Oman. Although very different in a lot of ways, the one feature it shares with the Sultanate is that it is also a port city.
Gdynia is one of the cities that make up the tri-city that includes Gdansk and Sopot in Poland. Here, life continuously moves at a fast pace racing towards modernity and development just like the rest of Europe.
A few kilometres away from the sea is Galeria Debiut and for a month, hanging on its walls are photos taken from Oman. The owner of the exhibit is Malgorzata Misha Szura Piwnik who hails from Northern Poland.
She has a series of these exhibits, showcasing her photographs on galleries and establishments who would like to have them. But the biggest she has by far is in her home city.
“After my trip to Oman, I had the pleasure of showing my photos in Poland. One is during the Arab Days in Cracow and the other, at the Travel Cafe in Gdañsk. The biggest event for me was an invitation to take part in an exhibition in the gallery in my hometown Gdynia,” she shared.
“I showed photos from my last trip to the Sultanate which tells stories of lifestyle and heritage of Oman. The opening of the exhibition was accompanied by traditional Omani music and the scent of incense. It aroused a big interest among the visitors,” she said.
“It was a significant success and I am proud that I was able to show part of the culture that is close to my heart to my fellowmen in Poland,” she added.
Misha, as she is fondly called, had visited Oman several times. Her first visit to the country was in 2013 and every year since then, she kept coming back.
“When I first arrived in Oman, I got instantly fascinated by its culture, landscapes and very friendly people. I love Oman and feel very well there,” she shared in an email interview.
“Every year I visit my Omani friends and discover new places. I photographed a lot of them like Ibra, Sinaw, Muttrah, Bidiyah, Wakan, Raz Madraka, Wadi Shab, and Tiwi. I like to take pictures of landscapes, people and art photos. Travelling as well as photography has always been my deep passion and I love connecting those two things together,” she said.
“When I returned to Oman in 2017, I had already a clear idea in my mind what I wanted to capture — the fusion between rich cultural heritage and modern daily life. I travelled from one village to another, spending time with local peoples, watching their behaviour and customs. I tried to get close to individuals, assimilate with them, make them comfortable with me and the camera. I always first follow my intuition to choose the best moment to shoot the photos,” she narrated.
“I also attended the Muscat Festival for the second time. My dream is to stay in Oman for longer so that I can photograph more cultural events in the country and street life. There are so many interesting places and topics to show that One month or two is not enough!”
Asked how different the cultures of Oman with that of Poland, Misha shared, “It is completely different. Oman’s culture has been largely shaped by religion. One difference also is that the world of men and women are separate in Oman while in Poland, they co-exist. I also have to point out that in Oman, the family has a very large role in the life of every citizen. I can’t say the same for Poland,” she said.
Despite being a female photographer, Misha shared that taking photographs has never been an issue. She said that asking for permission is part of the culture and if the people say no or don’t want to appear on the camera, she has to respect it.
“I always respect decisions. It’s difficult most especially to take photos of women but overall, Omani people are very friendly and they are also curious about Polish culture.”
Asked what the reaction of the audience was on her exhibit, Misha said, “A lot of Polish people said that it seemed like the time stopped in the photos. They have this notion that the photos looked more like paintings of many years ago. This is especially the case for the photographs taken from souqs or during the camel racing.”
“There was also great interest among the young, especially during the opening. When I started talking about Oman, they were very curious.”
Ask what her future plans are, Misha said that she does consider having an exhibit in the Sultanate but that it would need sponsor to make it possible.
“I need to find sponsors for printing and framing the photographs. I have many ideas honestly. Oman always inspires me and it felt like Oman is also my home. I hope I will be back soon and make new projects,” she said.
“I have to thank all my Omani friends for their fantastic care, hospitality and help while I’m traveling in their beautiful country,” she said.