Omani youth spearhead national pavilions in Dubai and Venice as upcoming artists Abdulrahim Al Kendi and Mays Al Moosawi draw recognition for their novel explorations of love, religion, and self-acceptance.
In October, Oman unveiled its pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, and in early December, it announced that for the first time Oman would host a national pavilion at the prestigious Venice Biennale in the spring of 2022. The common factor between these two recent creative endeavors is that they have been spearheaded by Omani youth.
More than 300 young Omanis from various sectors were engaged in the design process for the Omani Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. The youth’s contribution is acknowledged within the pavilion itself, with photos displayed of some of the young Omanis that were involved in its design. Sayyid Asaad bin Tariq al-Said, the deputy prime minister for international relations and cooperation affairs and the personal representative of the sultan, who visited the pavilion in November also remarked, “We are proud that the Omani Pavilion embodied the spirit and capabilities of young people, as its organization, management, and development were done 100% by young Omanis.” Similarly, Oman’s forthcoming pavilion at the Venice Biennale will be curated by 33-year-old Omani art historian and curator Aisha Stoby and will also showcase the work of some young Omani artists, alongside some of its pioneers. Furthermore, the initiative itself was proposed by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Youth, formed in 2020, and its young minister, Crown Prince Theyazin bin Haitham al-Said.
Located in a country and region with a burgeoning youth population, a tech-savvy generation of Omanis are doing things differently than their predecessors have, particularly when it comes to the arts. Oman’s young artists derive inspiration from the country’s people, rich history, heritage, and culture but present it in a fresh and provoking manner through their art and photography. They are pushing the country’s once relatively quiet art scene and drawing regional and international attention by taking advantage of new mediums.
Two of these young artists are Abdulrahim Al Kendi and Mays Al Moosawi. Abdulrahim is a 33-year-old conceptual artist. His art, photography, and installation work have been showcased in Oman’s Stal Gallery, where he won the prestigious Stal Gallery Young and Emerging Artists Prize in 2017, and Bait Al Zubair Museum, where he held a solo exhibition in 2014, as well as by the Sharjah Art Foundation. He was also an artist in residence at the Leipzig International Art Program. The young artist’s work revolves around themes such as society, love, and religion and provides a commentary on them. Though Oman’s history, multiculturalism, and civilization provide a lot of material and inspiration for creative production, he said in an interview, “emerging artists in Oman try to depict topics that are relevant to them and to their time, topics that artists from previous generations were not used to depicting through their art.” For example, his installation “Fate” showcases Oman’s topography and integrates Omani culture and people’s attitudes of mysticism around historic sites, and his work “14 Words/Levels of Love” questions the depth and meaningfulness of digital relationships that have become more common today, especially among the youth. “Omani youth have brilliant ideas, a fresh take on modern civilization, society, and way of life,” said Omani artist and curator Hassan Meer, the founder of Oman’s Stal Gallery who has been an inspiration and mentor for many young Omanis, in an interview with the Times of Oman. “They see things differently and express them in unique and adept means with tools that had not been available before, resulting in pieces that would otherwise be traditionally erroneous.” Abdulrahim, like many of his counterparts, uses social media applications such as Instagram, where he has over 5,000 followers around the world, as a personal gallery to showcase his work.
Mays likewise uses her Instagram page, with more than 15,000 followers, to display her illustrations, paintings, and wire sculptures, which focus on the female figure and the criticism women face about their bodies in society and often include elements of Omani culture within them. Her work is inspired by her own experiences with growing up underweight, and the experiences of her counterparts with body insecurity, and calls for women to love and accept themselves as they are. This is evident in her artwork “Self Appreciation,” for example, in which a woman is depicted giving herself a self-hug. The 27-year-old Omani’s work has been exhibited in Stal Gallery, London’s Brick Lane Gallery, and the Khaleeji Art Museum. “Young artists play a vital role in influencing people especially on social media platforms,” she mentioned, where their work can quickly reach a large audience and spark “creativity among the community.” She continued, “We live in a fast-paced environment that requires innovation, the use of technology, as well as creative, young thriving artists today who use their ambition as well as digital tools to enhance their creativity to create their artwork.”
But while this digital presence has helped increase the visibility of Oman’s blossoming art scene, Abdulrahim and Mays believe that there is much to be done locally before Oman can become an art hub that can rival those emerging within the Gulf region or internationally. With an abundance of young talent, “Oman has the potential to play a leading role in art,” said Mays. “Over the past few years, there was a significant boost to the art community in Oman when new galleries started opening up.” Private galleries such as Stal Gallery, Gallery Sarah, and Alia Gallery all opened within the last decade and have played a vital role in the absence of a national museum dedicated specifically to art in Oman. “However, Oman’s art scene still remains in its infancy. Boosting and encouraging young artists to take risks and start experimenting in new forms of art could make Oman stand out,” she added. Likewise, Abdulrahim said that, “After the creation of the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Youth, several initiatives were launched following the footsteps of other Gulf states.” However, he opined that, “Government and private institutions alone cannot advance an art movement in a country if its society is not on the same track.” He added, “Even with the existence of art events, the results after these events are very limited.” He noted that, in Oman, “there aren’t many art collectors or articles about artists in art magazines and publications, nor is there collaboration with institutions that are outside the arts, whether they be commercial or cultural.” Both he and Mays argued that arts education and awareness, as well as local and international art collaborations, could play a pivotal role in helping the scene grow into an art hub, initiatives the youth themselves could lead, they suggested. “Sometimes, the initiatives and art programs that are run by youth have more power to influence,” said Abdulrahim.
Oman’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai and its upcoming national pavilion at the Venice Biennale showcase the creativity of Omani youth and their ability to lead, innovate, and create when they are given the space or opportunity to do so. Omani artists such as Abdulrahim and Mays belong to a creative young generation that is ready to play a role in the journey that will elevate Oman’s art scene and attract a greater local and global audience.
is the founder and director of the Khaleeji Art Museum, the first digital museum dedicated to art and photography of the Gulf Arab states. She is also the founder and editor in chief of Sekka, a London-based independent magazine and integrated creative platform dedicated to art, culture, opinions, and literature of the Arab world, with a focus on the Gulf states. Alhinai was the recipient of the Arab Woman Award in 2011 and 2020.
is the founder of the Khaleeji Art Museum, where she serves as the director, and the founder of Sekka Magazine, where she serves as the managing editor. Alhinai is a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies and the University of Oxford and is the recipient of the Arab Woman Award 2020.
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