On an eerie blue mystical night, who can rule out the possibility of Jinns escaping from cucurbits? Such possibilities make our life worth living. And why art is a great relief is answered by the tremendous surreal possibilities it offers. Sitting alone in a 130-year-old house in Muttrah, which is now an art gallery, Naima al Maimani too explores the possibilities of preserving and promoting authentic Omani artistic legacy and ensuring sustainability of rural handicrafts projects.
As I got lost in the trance-inducing bluish minarets with glowing golden curves that shot up beyond the skies of the Arabian Nights on her large canvas, she broke the spell, saying: “I chose this century-old house for my art gallery for a reason. The antiquity, the memories and history that defines this property fit in perfectly with what I display here. All of the pieces and paintings here are intrinsically linked to authentic Omani culture and tradition. I never compromise on the artistic and cultural legacy of Oman.”
Absolutely. From an assortment of finely crafted jewellery pieces in gold, silver and copper, and gift items and trinkets to handmade pottery, silver bowls, mandos (dowry box), clothes and perfumes, everything at the Naima Art Gallery carries the stamp of Omani tradition. Even her paintings, seemingly abstract, reflect its subtle hues.
It was a bold decision, four years ago, to locate her gallery in a dilapidated house overlooking the beach in Muttrah that has a story spanning over a century. She renovated it keeping the traditional architectural style intact. Till then she used to work from home.
Over time, the profile of customers too changed as she shifted her base to the gallery. “Earlier it used to be 70 per cent locals, but now it’s 70 per cent foreign tourists and the rest locals. The proximity to the Muttrah Souq and being located next to Bait Al Baranda museum helped,” Naima says.
A graduate in English literature from Bahrain University, Naima found her calling in the world of colours and designs. Though she never got trained in painting, she attended a metalsmithing course in Egypt. She has been practising jewellery design for over 17 years, producing exquisite pieces that reflect the multiple aspects of Omani jewellery tradition.
She is responsive to the artistic tastes of the times, though. Tradition with a contemporary touch is her guiding philosophy in design. “Omani jewellery traditionally favour large shapes, and it’s not suitable for the younger generation. So she optimised the size of jewellery without sabotaging design elements. And it proved to be quite successful. Tourists and locals both cherish them as souvenirs and use them as part of their fashionwear.
Naima has been exhibiting her paintings and designer jewellery since 1996, and held exhibitions in UAE and Italy too. She has won prizes and appreciation for both her talent and community support.
But what distinguishes Naima is her social commitment. Beyond her passion for art, she is aware of the acute need to support traditional artisans from interior hamlets across the country, especially women.
She uses her brand Naima to give exposure to village craftswomen and their works. She trains them for free in designing, and buys their works to be displayed and sold through her gallery, and outlets at multiple places including Bait Al Zubair, Al Bustan Palace, Alila and Anantara hotels in Jebel Akhdhar. Through her vast network with various clients, she manages to get bulk orders for such products. She charges only a nominal commission for this service.
She is also a volunteer at the Sidab Women Sewing Group, and a mentor to local women in the group. She teaches them the art of designing clothes, bags and accessories, and gives space at her gallery and other outlets to display sustainable bags and other pieces made by the women’s collective. The best part is, the entire sale profits are given back to the group.
“I want to give back to the society, and empower women artists. What they need is as much commercial exposure for their products as possible, and that’s what I try to do,” she added.
She appreciates the strong support extended to her by firms such as Oman LNG and hotels including Alila and Anantara. Bait Al Zubair too has been one of her patrons. At the same time, she feels Public Authority for Crafts Industries can do much more to support Omani artists and artisans.
Naima is now focusing on expanding her art enterprise.
T V SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR