The female is emerging. And in the process, our political and cultural landscapes are being redefined. Or, is it that the very paradigm shifts in the collective human conscious is aiding women to assert themselves, and resolve issues of rights and identities?
Talking about identity, we can’t overlook art. Its power to establish identity is phenomenal; and it knows no gender politics. Even so, are there enough female voices in the arts? Clearly, but sadly, no. But that’s a huge gap that can be filled, as observed by artist Kelly Green. Female artists are grossly underrepresented in art exhibitions and galleries.
It’s in this context that bold women initiatives such as the UK-based W Project, which espouses the cause of women working in the creative industries, matter. Established with the aim of promoting and empowering female role-models and building a better creative community for women, W Project hosts various art events, programmes and initiatives designed to empower young women to become agents of change, challenge expectation and share their talent.
The forum feels that the female stereotype is dead. W Project’s inaugural project — Blessed are the Art Makers — explored and celebrated the deconstruction of the female stereotype.
Why women aren’t represented properly in mainstream media and the creative industries is stuff for bitter debates, but through proactive actions such as curating female-focused art shows and other events and designing programmes, entrenched perceptions can be changed. This is the driving philosophy of W Project.
Against this backdrop, it’s heartening that the Sultanate has been a welcoming canvas on which the power and beauty of female artistic creativity overflows. The country is home to some of the finest female artists, including Alia al Farsi, Rabha Mahmoud, Nadra Mahmoud, Maryam al Zadjali, Zakia al Barwani, Fakhriah al Yahyai, Budoor al Riyami, Mona al Baiti, Hafiza al Tamimi, Nadia al Balushi and Iftikhar al Badawiyah, to name a few.
Oman’s female artists face no discrimination whatsoever, and get the same opportunities and financial support that their male counterparts are entitled to. The Omani government in fact encourages female artists to exhibit their artworks not just inside the Sultanate, but abroad as well, offering free materials and tools for practicing their skills and participating in the annual exhibitions held by the OSFA or other organisations such as the Youth Art Studio and Cultural Club, as observed by Fakhriah al Yahyai.
She argues that it has been this strong government support for female artists that made women’s participations in the fine art movement more obvious and active.
The Omani woman has been highly active in the art sector since the 1970s, and the establishment of the Oman Society for Fine Arts in 1993 turned out to be a milestone in women empowerment in the art field. The society’s popular annual exhibitions offer women artists a powerful platform to showcase their works and interact with art experts and marketers.
These talented artists have highlighted the feminine in vibrant and abstract hues, attempting bold definitions of female energy.
For instance, Alia al Farsi has, among other themes, explored the deep spiritual enlightenment every woman carries in her being. Her Zenith of Solitude represents an innovative journey of discovery through the uncharted realms of the beauty of self-realisation and how it helps women to set themselves free of any types of bondage. Her female heralds a new world where women feel “free like a monk”, shedding all irrelevant baggages and experiencing bliss and solitude at the zenith of conscious living.
Mona al Baiti successfully worked on the Arab women’s cultural identity element: burqa. She saw the burqa (especially worn by the women of the Bedouin community in Oman) as an evocative symbol of Omani heritage, bringing out the subtle cultural and gender undercurrents it stands for.
Of course, Oman’s female artists have been experimenting with innovative and contemporary artistic tools and methods since the 1970s, and they have played a significant role in balancing complex gender equations and establishing a free space for Oman’s women to explore their identities aesthetically.
But there’s a great scope for social and cultural initiatives of the likes of W Project in the Sultanate. They can really add more colour to the female element of art and make Oman’s art and creative sector bloom like never before.
TV SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR