Religion and Concept Art in Oman

T-Mag Sunday 19/June/2016 13:43 PM
By: Times News Service
Religion and Concept Art in Oman

In Muscat, unconventional young artists are turning to Stal Gallery in their quest to develop their talent and express their creativity. Stal’s ‘Young Emerging Artists’ do not want simply to make crowd-pleasing art. They are not interested in painting wadi scenes, castles, or old doors. They are determined to create conceptual art that forces people to think about the pressing global issues of our times, none of which are quite as essential, or sensitive, as religious faith.

All over the world, a new generation in their twenties and thirties are finding their place in life. They know that eventually the future will belong to them—and they want to claim it. Most will follow in the footsteps of the older generation by seeking careers as engineers, lawyers, physicians, businesspeople or entrepreneurs, technicians or tradespeople. But some choose to be artists, often in spite of the wishes of their parents.

“Today, with the international growth of different artistic mediums, art is adopting the new possibilities that global modernisation and technology have to offer. I believe this is revolutionary. Propelling art in this direction gives the decade a new style and identity,” observed Stal’s Artistic Director, Hassan Meer, who oversees the forward-thinking Emerging Art Movement and mentors young local talent.

The programme encourages young artists to push the boundaries of their mediums. Three of the Omani artists featured in Stal’s Emerging Art Exhibition last December did just that when they chose to explore the cultural aspects of religion in their collections.
Ahmed Al Mullahi, a successful artist and interior designer, was one of the three, and his work is perhaps the most controversial. I met Ahmed at Stal to learn more.

When I arrived, Ahmed was standing in front of a huge black and white photograph of eyes. His eyes. Then I noticed something strange nearby— two concrete tombstones. They were from Al Mullahi’s installation titled “Monotheism” for which he undertook extensive research on the Abrahamic faiths. Ahmed decided to present an interpretation of the drama of Adam and Eve on screen, juxtaposed with videos inset in the tombstones portraying religious rituals such as prayer.

“The whole idea was to illustrate the story of Adam and Eve, which we know through reading and sermons, with arresting symbols — a live snake, a fresh red apple, the human body. I wanted to make the religious story of human creation more real and tangible, so that we know better who we are. Conceptual artwork like this is part of an awakening in the global conversation of avant-garde artists,” he explained.

Ahmed noted that, while many viewers did not stop to fully absorb the work and give feedback, when they did, it was quite moving. “One lady contemplated it for a while and then shed tears. This was the greatest success I could have asked for.”

Fellow artist, Raiya Al Rawahi, joined us while he spoke. “It was visually stunning and thought-provoking. Like my installation, “Questioning Religion”. It shows that it is okay to think and question in your own terms,” she said. “I believe that our exhibition changed the perception of local art. We are more avant-garde than people thought, and we are part of a bigger picture, stimulating the creative thinking that is essential if humankind is going to progress. Conceptual art can give us the tools to learn, develop, and grow.”

Ahmed and Raiya want to embrace their religion more thoughtfully, without altering the fundamental tenets, which remain dear to them. Both artists emphasised their commitment to their Muslim faith, remarking on the beautiful morality of Islam. They see their work as a matter of relevant, enlightened interpretation, and hope it will help to make religion more meaningful for their generation and the future that awaits them. [email protected]

Stay In-The-Know
Stal Gallery
Villa 221, Al Inshirah Street
(near the British Council), MQ
+968 2460 0396