Al Jarz, a small axe of Musandam, was a necessity once upon a time. The axe is fixed on a long stick and this is made from the trees such as Al Majz or Jujube found in Musandam.
Al Jarz continues to have its significance today but more as a cultural identity.
Crafts of the Sultanate of Oman have a special place in society because traditions continue to be cherished even in the millennium. The country's list of craft industries include making of daggers and swords, leather, textiles, carpets, weaving, pottery, incense making, palm leave products, weaving, copper and silversmithing. Incense burners, rose water distillation and frankincense harvesting are also part of it. The list can go on with the fact that there are dedicated men and women who have been practising it from one generation to another. Today their main exposure to the public is through exhibitions.
However, way back on November 5, 1995, believing in the craft industry of the Sultanate of Oman and the support the artisans and craftsmen needed, Mona Ritchie founded the Omani Heritage Gallery with the objective of promoting and finding market for Omani crafts that are made by the nationals.
“The venture started through Marcia Dorr and Neil Richardson who were commissioned to do studies on the handicraft industry in the Sultanate of Oman,” said Mona.
This is why she thought of venturing into Omani crafts. “I perceived lack of cohesive sustainability for the crafts of the country. Some organisations were selling them but with no idea of quality control or even what the market needed. Most importantly there was no feedback to the artisans.”
Her success has been the network of craftspeople she developed over the years.
When asked whether craftspeople can be entrepreneurs, she said, “Yes they can be entrepreneurs if by that you mean independent businesses. But they need help in reaching the markets, marketing themselves, though many now do that via Instagram etc.”
“The younger ones are more tech savvy though they too sometimes have difficulty in understanding pricing, and sometimes I feel they need to get to a wider international market,” noted Mona, founder of Omani Heritage Gallery who is fascinated by the Omani lotus design. She is very protective of the design.
She recently held a gift market at the Gallery and participating with others were the renowned potter from Bahla, Zayed bin Abdullah al Adawi. He was surrounded by young children who were fascinated watching him work with the wheel, on his part he soon began to give children the opportunity to wet their hands, apply clay and try make their own little pots. The texture and the feel of it along with creativity made the children want to linger on and try again.
Al Adawi was actually triggering inspiration in future potters. Clay pots of the Sultanate of Oman are something that is still in demand for keeping potable water cool and the decorative pots have received interest from younger generation and have also found new markets in the West and the Far East.
The pandemic, however, has created further challenges for the craftsmen.
Fauziya al Balushi has been creating a niche for her products - incenses, perfumeries and traditional clothing, which resulted in her boutique- Mihral brand with branches in Muscat and Salalah.
Previously Boutique Mihral was assisted and supported partially by the Crafts Authority through marketing by organising and holding different events, however due to Covid-19, such events have come to standstill, which has had an effect on our business continuity as a result of avoiding the spread of coronavirus. As an impact of Covid-19’s existence.”
According to Khalid al Harubi, a communications advisor and founder as well as Managing Director of Impact Integrated said after having conversations with artisans, there are a number of recommendations for them to reach their potential:
1. Redefining crafts industry culture to embrace a "Creative Industry" mindset that promotes diversity, creativity and the digital economy.
2. Set a market share for the industry within the global $500-800 billion crafts industry market, which is ripe for disruption by the more inclusive creative industry.
3. Encouraging industry best practices and discipline. Over-complimenting newcomers, especially aspiring artists, does more harm than good.
4. Investing in national non-fungible tokens (NFT) initiatives. NFTs are changing artists' relationship with their ecosystem & their intellectual property rights forever.
5. You cannot improve the quality of your work or gain a better market share without 3 qualities: Training & continuous improvement mindset, Patience & Discipline. Those who lack these qualities should not be considered as artists or artisans.
6. The first step the government can take to facilitate a better creative ecosystem is to make a Creative Licence available, this is so artists can experiment and grow without having to worry about unnecessary fixed costs.
7. Creative hubs are the most effective way to facilitate for an ecosystem to flourish.