What nature breaks down, she turns into art

The long coastline of Oman is famous for its sandy beaches, mesmerising sunsets and the bright blue waters of the Arabian Sea but what most of us don’t notice are the much smaller details that truly add to the essence of the Sultanate. Alma De Ville loves long walks on the beaches and strolls through the desert, but one thing she never does is return home empty-handed. Filling up bags and buckets, Alma finds shells, corals, fish bones, urchin remains, driftwoods, fish lures and other things that have ended their lifecycle and washed ashore.

Alma believes, “I’m just a small loop, in a large chain of events when it comes to the presence of these materials. All of these things I have were all once parts of living thing that lived for days, months or even years that then died, decomposed and these pieces were then taken by the tides and deposited right here! I’m just that small loop that collects these things and finds a unique way in which I can display their beauty.”
Never having lived by the sea before, Alma’s attention was drawn to these new discoveries — small bones and remains with their intricate geometric patterns, almost symmetrical designs, and unique structures. But her interest in finding beauty in the smallest of things isn’t new, Alma shared.
She said, “Where I grew up in Bosnia, I would go into the woods and pick up lichens, moss, little twigs and old leaves and make decorative arrangements. I guess I just love being in and amongst nature, I also loved picking mushrooms and wild strawberries and blueberries.”
Alma and her husband have now been living in Oman for the past 8 years, and in their beautiful home displayed are her many works of unique art that will definitely grab your attention from the moment you walk in.
“It seems almost innate as if I was born with this talent that guided me to see the smaller details and beauty in a small thing that most others might miss,” she shared.
Alma invited us into her home, and as an interior designer by profession, her house is a testament to her skill. The house, although at first seemed minimalist, on closer inspection reveals every nook and cranny has an arrangement of assortments displaying the various unique knickknacks that Alma has collected over time. Crystals, stones, bones and fossils, along with her very own works of art, every moment in her house, you are sure to have your attention drawn to something you might have never seen before.
A unique combination of pattern, colour, texture and of course remains of sea creatures that washed ashore. Even before Alma can start working on her projects, once collected, the products have to go through a long drawn cleaning process that not only protects it but cleans out any organic matter that might affect it in the long run.
Tubs, boxes, weave baskets and drawers filled with cleaned and ready to use products fill up the storage spaces in her studio in her home in Azaiba and this is where the magic happens. Spine, teeth or bone by bone, Alma creates something that truly gives its viewer an experience like no other.
Unlike many other artists, whose works convey a state of mind, emotion or event – Alma’s art is more sensual. It is a holistic experience for the onlooker with its variant shades, intricate minute details, and textures. As Alma said, “I’m only displaying what nature has provided me with.”
“When I have a canvas in front of me along with my little treasures, I just start putting them together. I cannot force my art, I tried in the past but the materials won’t allow it. Following what feels natural, and really I only mimic nature and keep the harmony that already exists and just maintains their order,” Alma explained about her process.
Hung on a bedroom wall, she explained one of her pieces. She said that when the sea urchin is broken, first one will notice triangular sections that form on the inside and then more trapezoidal rectangular sections that make the rest of it. At first, she had attempted to make them fit into the vision she had for her creation but soon gave up.
She said, “I had to let go and submit to the shapes that were in front of me, putting them together one piece at a time and it felt as if I was being guided by these pieces and their shape and natural qualities.”
She pointed to one of her other pieces that had bright blue hues, she explained, “it took me multiple attempts with a variety of mediums to try and finally be able to dye these pieces, I tried acrylics, food colours, natural dyes, and nothing worked till finally, I tried calligrapher’s ink! And voila, I mixed up the ink in a bucket and poured all the little bits of urchin into it. Because it soaks up the ink but the dye is still visible, the original colour determined the shade. Whilst some of the pieces turned bright blue the others remained a lighter shade or even reacted with the green to give off a teal or turquoise shade.”
Another piece that caught our eye was made with broken urchin bones in a square design with a circular negative space — gradually fading from green to white, Alma explained whilst showing us a sample that she was mimicking the colouring of the urchin’s bone. To us, it looked it like was almost as if the spherical remains were flattened out and displayed to us on a flat surface.
A free-flowing art form that is guided by nothing but nature and its form, Alma reiterated to us, “The size of my pieces and their composition are completely dependent on what I have and how much of it I have. Most times, small or large, I take a canvas and start in one corner and see what I create. I don’t have a plan, I just go with the flow and let nature take its toll.”