There's something calming about Alma de Ville. The first time we've met her was four years ago when she welcomed us into her home slash studio and she showed the Oman Observer team what her art is all about.
It was easy to tell then that she has high regard for nature. Her three-storey home was like touring a well-curated gallery, the entrance so diverse and eclectic you would think that the beach is but a metre away from her doorstep. There were sea pebbles everywhere, some broken seashells here and there and a lot of plants against a white backdrop that felt immaculate despite the hundreds of little details that make her house so fascinating.
Her home overlooks the beach, something she said was a stark contrast to her homeland in Bosnia or even her place in London where her daughter is currently living.
Back then, Alma was all praise for Oman. She counted the years and it felt like time was at a standstill and she was gifted with a world so fascinating she fell in love with it without even trying.
Even then, she narrated her story with the soothing sound of the waves. If there's something she learned, it's enjoying the now so she took her time showcasing the different pieces she has accomplished then.
Fast forward to 2022, Alma was already in Oman for 12 years and as an artist, despite the pandemic, her work continued finishing nearly a hundred artworks within that timeframe. She sold a lot of them and as she broke the news that she was leaving Oman, it felt like a friend was taking an exit and we can't help but watch her take the stage one more time before the curtain comes to a close.
Alma has an interior design degree which was evident in how she does things at home or in her art. She gave us a sneak peek of her collection of materials — dried out broken shells, thousands of urchin pins, bleached corals all meticulously and neatly organized into rows of equally measured squares. She was a minimalist overall but what made us fall in love with her work is the amount of detail she poured into every piece mentioning that some of them can take hours while others can take days with the materials needing to be bleached several times so they can be properly preserved.
The Duende Exhibit launched at Bait Muzna Gallery on March 27 and ending in the middle of April is Alma's swansong in Oman. Partnering with another talented artist, Anna Dudchenko, we interviewed Alma one last time to help her wrap up her 12 years as an artist in Oman.
For someone who truly loves Oman and calls it a second home, leaving for sure is a difficult decision. Why did you push for this last exhibit?
I am absolutely gutted to leave Oman. I went to the villages of Imti and Izki a few weeks ago and as we drive by and pass through the mountains, I feel like I'm leaving a part of me. I was touching rocks and feeling their energy and I found myself having a conversation with them as if saying goodbye telling the place that I don't want to leave and that I want to stay. There is this strong magnetic pull to just be here.
But as reality sinks in, I've concluded that my twelve years here are not for nothing. I've created nearly a hundred artworks several of them already sold to anonymous buyers in the country. I wanted to have this last exhibit as a parting gift to the people. These artworks were all of Oman and created in Oman so a part of me felt like they belong here. I am sentimental and passionate and I thought these artworks need to be seen.
For some people, 12 years is a lifetime. What has been the most memorable experience you have of Oman?
I'm from Bosnia and I've spent most of my life in London in the UK. When I arrive at those destinations and I look outside the plane and I see the lights outside, my heart flutters and I am happy because my daughter is in London. But when the plane lands in Oman, my heart finds its joy. It's a different feeling.
The bizarre thing is that I remember a few years back we are travelling along the desert and I had a moment where there was this sense of recognizing the place I haven't been before. My heart belonged here.
Other than Oman becoming home, the most memorable experiences I have are of the people we met. I've grown up in my own country and lived in London but the Omanis are the most welcoming and tolerant and accepting. I've joined a lot of trips, had gone camping on numerous beaches and ventured into deserts and the amount of experience had been wonderful. We've created lots of memories, many we treasure.
How did Oman inspire you as an artist?
With the art that I do, I do not have a preconceived idea of what the piece will become. There's a lot of geometry and repetition in my work and they are quite contemplative. I want to show them to the people of Oman because I feel they are calming.
I've got a lot of inspiration from my wanderings in Oman. I have photos of fishermen lines and spotted dead crabs in the corals. I love how nature created art and how colours faded in the sand.
For artists around the world, there is a notable trend. Some work with eggshells, others with dry leaves, there's always a tendency of utilizing materials around you. Originally, art was just using paint and brush but now, you can use whatever medium. During my time in Oman, I have an abundance of these unique materials and those materials are the inspiration that allowed me to create the unique artwork I'm showcasing to the world. The inspiration is everywhere, beaches, mountains and I was lucky to have lived here long enough to be able to do what I wanted to do at that moment in time.
You've mentioned that you are always evolving as an artist? Does that mean that we're also saying goodbye to the style of art you did in Oman?
The materials that I worked with here in Oman, this was just a stage in my life that I discovered while living here. I'm still going to use the remaining materials I've collected so as not to waste them at all. As an artist, I do what feels right at the moment so I'm moving back to painting and using very minimally some of the materials I'd been using to add a little bit of texture to my work. I've started transitioning to a different medium but you will see a little bit of the elements like the urchin pins and the corals in my future work. Moving to Dubai, the conditions will be very different. I will have access to different things and I do not have the intention of going out of my way to collect what was readily available in Oman.
I am not totally closing this chapter but rather transitioning. And the thing is, if we have another opportunity, there is a strong feeling of wanting to come back.
Is there anything else we need to know about this last exhibit in Oman?
I'm working with the equally talented Anna Dudchenko in this exhibit. I'm showcasing 56 of my artworks while Anna is bringing out 12 of her abstract art. Duende is our attempt to capture that 'gasping' moment when we see something that fascinates us long before our brain can process what we are seeing. It will be available at Bait Muzna daily except Fridays until the middle of April. I hope to show these pieces to the people of Oman not just for their calming effect but as I've said, I feel like they deserved to be seen here as they were made here.
You can follow Alma de Ville on Instagram @almadevilleart and Anna Dudchenko on @annadudchenko55.