Thursday, June 08, 2023 | Dhu al-Qaadah 18, 1444 H
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‘Essence of Arabia’ explores the traditional Omani Haseer


After travelling extensively through the Middle East, the British artist James Wagstaff’s journey led him to Oman, where he began his fascination and contemplation of Khaleeji culture and values.

One of the main themes that emerged from this time was the symbolism and importance of the traditional Omani Haseer (mat) which his current exhibition at Bait Muzna Gallery revolves around.

The ‘Haseer‘ is the traditional hand-woven mat made from date palm leaves and wadi reeds which are in abundance in Oman. However, the craftsmen who create these Haseers are now hard to come by. Being trained in many Fine Art practices, James began to explore various methods of recreating the Haseer out of materials that are easily preserved over time, each capturing the essence, texture and spirit of the Haseer in a different light. The exhibition also inspects all uses of the traditional Haseer and all the values it reflected into people.

James said that over time, the essence of Haseer has changed. But, he is inquiring over the loss we have suffered from over losing the value of traditional things.

“What are we willingly throwing away? As Oman and the Khalij rapidly develops, it has worked hard to stay connected to its past, but change is inevitable. Much of the change is beneficial, but what are the things that are being lost unintentionally? How to engage with future generations and maintain our beautiful core values for their inheritance?” he questioned.

James used visual representation to highlight the subconscious symbolism behind the Haseer being a valuable component that brings together the beauty of local culture and values. Through sculpture and installation, he explores the idea of time and the inevitable evolution of culture and tradition.

With his current works, James observed how people come together on the Haseer, how it immediately creates a sacred and holy space where one connects with God and others, where everyone is equal, where there is safety, peace, rest, even when surrounded by danger or disaster. Ultimately, questioning how and why a humble carpet can have all of these different values woven into it.

“When you enter the mat, you are protected, not affected by the outside — time and space slow down when you enter in. You are unaffected by the stresses of the world. It’s such a silent protector that you are rarely conscious of the change.”

These rolled mats remind us of the moveable quality of the Haseer. It is a companion of our travel; it goes with us where we go. We have the shared connection with each other that we all have mats. They are parts of our history and become part of the history of anyone who lives here.

To produce these works, James has extensively researched and collected all the locally made designs he could find of the traditional Haseer. Immortalising them by casting them into metals and clay, thus preserving all the virtues and rich values they represent. Over many years of experimentation with different materials and mediums, through trial and error, the outcome is captivating. These symbols of our heritage are preserved in their purest essence and form for future generations to reflect upon.

The exhibition lasts until March 22, at Bait Muzna Gallery, Muscat.

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