The silk road and how the world’s youth see it

Twenty four-year-old Abdullah Fadhil spent hours at one of Oman’s sheep markets to capture a photo that is now part of a travelling exhibit currently on display at the heart of the Muscat Grand Mall which opened October 29.
Although it did not win any of the top awards, it was selected however by Unesco and the Silk Roads Dialogue, Diversity and Development as one of the dozens of photographs that comprises the “Youth Eyes on the Silk Roads” exhibit born out from the international photo contest held between April 11 to July 22, 2018, where over 6000 young people from over 100 countries have sent their entries.

The photo contest organised “within the framework of UNESCO Silk Roads Project, UNESCO Youth Programme and the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022)” benefitted from “support and valuable advice of the renowned photographer and humanitarian, Reza.”

Given the freedom to create a caption for their photos, Abdullah shared, “In the ten days leading up to the Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha every year, popular markets in the country’s various regions are called “Habta al Eid,” a local term for traditional seasonal market.”
Something that is unique in the Middle East and some Muslim countries, Abdullah went on to share that “Different things are sold, such as Omani clothes, toys and sweets. However, the sale of cattle and sheep is so important that a competitive process between the buyers is organised.”
He added, “It is a long-lasting legacy of trade and commerce in Oman, which is one of the major centres of exchange along the Silk Road.”
Although he grew up with this tradition, Abdullah knew that this practice is not known to a lot of people all over the world which was why it made as a perfect entry to the contest.
For Hani al Suleimani, a 23-year-old photographer who also hailed from Oman, he was proud of the country’s long history of weaving, sending in an entry he called ‘Texture’ which showcased an old gentleman on the process of checking out the wool which will be processed to become a garment.
Al Suleimani shared that “This particular art form continues to play an important role for Omanis who continue to master it,” adding, “At first, the craftsman collects wool from the animals and then cleans them and prepares them for training. The Art of Weaving is an old Omani art and it is one of the professions practised by people in the garment’s industry.”
There are several other Omanis who made it in the shortlist. Badr al Qassabi shared his “Sandalwood” entry where an old woman was putting a sandalwood on a child’s face — also one of the long-standing traditions in the country today while Anas AlDheeb sent his “Working Together” entry that showcased Omani fishermen in a dramatic scene of hauling their catch of the day.
“I took this photo during a festival in the Safa house,” he shared.
The young Omanis’ photographs sit side by side with photographs from young people from China, Iran, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Morocco and the many others that are part of the Silk Road network which Unesco described as “a historic trade routes across land and sea “that spanned much of the globe from prehistoric times until the present.”
Organisers of the exhibit shared that the “main purpose of the contest was to encourage youth to reflect on and capture the shared heritage and values of the Silk Roads by using one of their preferred tools of communicating — photography.”
The contest was divided into two age categories, 14 to 17 years old and those from 18-25 years old. Six winners from three categories each and four honourable members were selected by the committee — a tough job since the quality of the images submitted was all of the highest qualities.
“This travelling exhibition aims to show and share with the general public the result of this successful contest. Fifty-nine of the best photos were selected to illustrate the creativity and talents of the young people who participated in the event. These exceptional photographs will also be published in a professionally bound book to be disseminated worldwide,” the organiser’s shared.
Photography captures a moment in time — preserving, sharing and displaying something that doesn’t need a specific language to explain itself. Falling into the genre of visual arts, today in the time of mobile phones, internet, and social media — photography has become a primary communication tool for today’s youth. The power and importance of visual instruction in raising awareness for younger generations are paramount, especially concerning an understanding of key issues within the context of globalisation.
Top prize winner for the 14-17 Years Old category was the “Tibetan Girl Wearing Wild Flowers” entry by Zijie Gong of China and for 18-25 Years Old was the “Sunrise over Bagan” entry by Pyae Phyo Thet Paing of Myanmar.
For full details of the winners, visit unescosilkroadphotocontest.org and to see the entries by young Omani photographers, the exhibit will run until November 3 and can be found at the main lobby of Muscat Grand Mall.

YERU EBUEN &
TITASH CHAKRABORTY