Rasha al Raisi -
I was invited to the opening of the Young Emerging Artist Prize in Gallery Stal by my cousin. She was a model for one of the art works and asked me to attend. I took my mother and we went. The place was overly crowded with youth of all ages. The art works were unreachable as we pushed through, trying to find my cousin from one end of the hall to the other. I was wondering about the art interest that Omani youths had developed all of a sudden.
But then I got my answer: the place was studded with social media personalities or influencers, which meant that more than half of the comers were followers. All you could see was mobile phones snapping pictures from all corners of the art work. Whether they were selfies or of some of the influencers posing in front of them and smiling happily. I came across men with bushy beards and twirled moustaches, not sure if they were artists, models or just visitors like me. At the end, we managed to find my cousin’s photographs (but not my cousin).
I decided to go 2 days later to have a closer look at the art work. The place was super quite with just 4 visitors and the curator. I was really impressed by the art work that was presented by Omani young artists.
Although both sexes represented social issues through their art work, womens’ work was more prominent, discussing social issues boldly. For example, artist Fatma Abdulaziz presented through her installations how religion was used for decades to install fear in people. Along with 2 posters representing cassette covers of religious lessons given by extremists, you could use earphones to hear some highlighted words from the lesson mixed with house music.
Nabaa Baqir used a video installation of a woman wearing a burqa and stockings, crossing her legs in what she called: “Halal District”. This represented temporary marriages that are allowed in some Islamic sects, under the excuse of preventing adultery. Ayah Yousuf used three portraits of a woman to represent the three stages of grief in the Omani culture: sadness, togetherness and suppression.
The clever use of paint in the black and white portraits, made it easy to identify with the three stages. For example, the red thread like paint over the lips represented the suppression stage. Umayma al Hinai used photography too, but on a model clock that she called: “tick tock goes her clock”. On the clock are pictures of different women depicting the social questions that each woman goes through: when are you coming back? (if you’re studying abroad) When are you getting married? When are you having children? This wooden clock is set beside a portrait of a woman standing next to a man both sharing a red head turban, linked together like an umbilical cord.
Alaa al Dhyiabi went even further, discussing identities and ideologies through her photography work. In a wooden model of the World Trade Centre, windows are used as frames representing pictures of Muslim youths. Every picture reflects their inner and outer struggles.
‘Distorted realities’ is the name given to two set of photographs, taken by Muzn Meer. The idea of living in the same world yet in different ways was presented through her out of focus, imbalanced pictures. These young women’s impressive works spoke millions of words of how our culture and society are perceived. It questioned norms that are outdated. The young generation is pushing for a social change and it’s bound to happen.
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja.