It was a chance encounter. The ribbon had been cut, I had studied the exhibition in advance, and was standing just inside the door as the crowd flowed into Stal Gallery. I asked a young Omani woman who happened to stop a moment which contender won the Emerging Artist prize.
“Oh, it was Raiya Al Rawahi. I knew she would win! I love her work.” We had a short conversation, but long enough for me to be impressed by the lovely young lady’s courtesy and generosity of spirit.
The next day I phoned Riham Noor Al Zadjali, another Emerging Artist contender who Stal Artistic Director Hassan Meer had suggested I get in touch with. We set a time and when I arrived to meet her, I was surprised to see the charming young woman I had met by chance at the entrance to the exhibition.
We sat and Riham told me about her journey and her early inspirations from her time in Paris where she studied Art History and Fine Art at the American University and the Paris American Academy of Art.
“My favourite place in Paris was the Louvre and I went there at least once a week. I was inspired particularly by the later paintings of Ingres – the almost modern clarity of line, the powerful simplicity and yet the richness of his imagery. My paintings from the Paris period represent a Modernist interpretation of Ingres’ artistry.”
Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres (1780-1867) was a neo-classical French painter, a precursor of Modern Art who is admired for purity of form in portraiture. And as we looked at images of some of her early works, they revealed a wonderful natural talent, beautifully rendered and immediately recognisable in both style and subject as ‘apres Ingres’
(after Ingres). Committed to humanitarian ideals, Riham’s early paintings were the launching pad for a journey into art that speaks to contemporary global issues.
“Diversity as in the example of refugees is not something to be feared. It is part of the richness of life – something beautiful to be celebrated. We should not have a separatist view. It is not ‘us and them’. Refugees were much like you and me before circumstances forced them to flee. This could happen to anyone of us. We share a common reality in today’s global world,” she explained, referring to her installation in the Young Emerging Artist Exhibition, titled ‘Illegal’, which shows the eyes of people crammed together as they stare through the slats of a wooden packing crate. They are refugees trapped in the confines of the world political situation today.
“We will find solutions; I have faith in science; and, in my own realm, I believe that, through social commentary and exchange, art can shift people’s attitudes in the right direction. By providing a neutral ground for the exchange of ideas, art can break down prejudices and alter negative attitudes. It has the power to change the world.”