Contemporary Art In Oman: Spaces And Places

Contemporary Art in Oman: Spaces and Places.

Oman has a long heritage of material culture that may be observed through its art movements of the 20th century. Early practices include a range of tribal handicrafts alongside self-portraiture in painting beginning in the 1960’s, as well a notable experimental art movement originating in the 1990’s with the Circle collective, an experimental art collective established by Hassan Meer. Many of these movements were in dialogue with other countries in the Arab Gulf. However, recent years have been important for Oman’s international exposure through the inclusion of Omani artists in international collections, art exhibitions, and events. Breakthroughs occurred with Alia Al Farsi, the first Omani artist to show at the last Venice biennale, Radhika Khimji, the first Omani artist to exhibit at both the Marrakesh and Haiti Ghetto biennale this year, and Gallery Sara’s first representation at this year’s Art Dubai. This exposure is inextricably and inevitably linked to Muscat’s emergent exhibition spaces and developing audiences.

Contemporary Art in Oman: Spaces and Places.
Riham Noor Al Zadjali, “Illegal”, installation. Images courtesy of the gallery.
Contemporary Art in Oman: Spaces and Places.

The first space of note that has been essential in promoting emerging, and particularly young artists, is Stal gallery. At the end of 2013 Hassan Meer founded Stal, a multidisciplinary residency, studio, and exhibition space funded by the Alserkal Group. Stal’s local, national, and international curatorial platform has seen a range of multimedia exhibitions in Oman, and, in particular, the founding of The Stal Gallery Young Emerging Artist Prize supported by Alserkal Avenue and the Alserkal Group. The inaugural edition displayed work by a group of talented and innovative young Omani artists, many exhibiting for the first time. This year’s participants were Rawan Al Mahrouqi, Shahla Abdulmajid, Zahir Al Siyabi, Ahmed Al Mullahi, Raiya Al Rawahi, Al Hussain Al Balushi, Safa Al Balushi, Ruqaiya Abdullah, Riham Noor Al Zadjali, Sarah Al Balushi, and Alaya Al Mujaini, a force en mass displaying an eclectic and multidimensional collection of work.

Contemporary Art in Oman: Spaces and Places.
Sarah Al-Balushi, “See Me as I See You”. Image courtesy of the gallery.
Safa Al-Balushi, “Inside the frame”. Image courtesy of the gallery.
Contemporary Art in Oman: Spaces and Places.
Contemporary Art in Oman: Spaces and Places.
Sarah Al-Balushi, detail of “See me how I see you”. Image courtesy of the gallery.
Ruqaiya Abdullah, “The Life”, mixed media. Image courtesy of the gallery.
Contemporary Art in Oman: Spaces and Places.

An equally important space for Oman’s modern art infrastructure has been Bait Zubair’s Gallery Sara. In addition to their exhibition programme and participation at Art Dubai this year, Gallery Sara has developed programmes to promote art education and vital research on modern Omani art. Recent exhibitions include ‘Loud Art’, a collection of responses to an open call initiated by the gallery for artists throughout the GCC under the theme of ‘Reinterpreting Contemporary’. As the leading commercial gallery in Muscat, Gallery Sara has provided needed support for Omani artists at all stages of their careers and has become a vital conduit for collectors and audiences interested in Oman’s emerging art scene.

Contemporary Art in Oman: Spaces and Places.
Radhika Khimji’s recent exhibition “Of Place and Places”, Gallery Sarah. Image courtesy of the artist.

A final and immense addition to both the traditional and modern art climate of Oman is the Ministry of Culture and Heritage’s Oman National Museum, due to open later this year. The National Museum will house fifteen halls tracing Oman’s history from its geological beginnings through interactive displays and archaeological exhibits. Oman’s complex and multifaceted civilization and trade histories will be explored concluding with a series of galleries examining Oman’s contemporary identity. A dedicated temporary exhibition space has already been the site for a range of conferences and curatorial training programmes in collaboration with art institutions internationally.

Though Oman has had a long history of involvement in the arts, the present moment is crucial for Oman’s cultural development and regional presence. Just as a curator translates work for the public, these institutions have revealed Omani art in unprecedented and exciting forms and they stand as great beacons of the future.

Aisha Mazin Stoby

Aisha Mazin Stoby is a researcher and curator. She is currently completing her PhD in Modern Art Movements in the Arab Gulf at SOAS, University of London. Recent exhibitions include Salon Oman Noor at Leighton House Museum in London, the Spirit of the Union for the occasion of the UAE's 43rd National Day at the New York Public Library and Oman et La Mer, exploring Oman's trade histories at the Maritime Museum in Paris.