In the Eye of Beauty: Changing the face of modern art in Oman
February 19, 2015 | 12:00 AM
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In just two weeks' time, Bait Al Zubair will take us back to the late 1940's when a revolutionary group of young artists set out to change the face of Modern Art. They called themselves CoBrA (Cobra) after the cities from which they came – Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. The work of these ground-breaking artists is considered so important in the history of Modern Art that a museum was established near Amsterdam for permanent display of their art and to perpetuate the principles for which they stood.

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Bait Al Zubair is bringing the work of several Cobra artists to Oman with the objective of stimulating and encouraging innovation among local artists, as well as among school children, some of whom will form the nation's future generation of artists. Anyone who has lately been to an exhibition at Bait Muzna, Stal, or Galley Sarah knows that the trend to innovative contemporary styles of art in Oman is steadily growing. The time is right for the arrival of the Cobra Exhibition.

The Societal Context
Today, we know all too well about war, with devastating conflicts close to home, in Syria and Iraq, as well as the dangerous, on-going strife in Yemen, Libya, and Palestine.  And television makes us aware of insurrections of varying intensity in countless other places around the world. But most people alive today have little knowledge of the deadliest war in history, which affected more than 100 million people from over thirty countries.

The Second World War (1939-1945) resulted in the mass death of from fifty to eighty-five million people, with twice as many civilians as military personnel perishing. Imagine being an aspiring young artist in the aftermath of this monstrous war which had scarred almost everyone and everything in sight. People spoke of a new world order – one with different values and greater hope. They did not want to live in a past that had wrought such a cataclysm.

For the radical young artists who founded Cobra, this meant a dramatic break with established traditions in Modern Art. They did not aspire to be Post Impressionists, Surrealists, Fauvists, Cubists or anything else that had defined the course of Modern Art prior to the War. But where would they get their inspiration? Although unavoidably influenced by them, the Cobra artists could not turn explicitly to the work of the great masters of Modern Art, such as Picasso, Dali, Magritte, or Klee. And yet, to take hold, any new art movement must have roots. 

Innocent Simplicity; Intuitive Brilliance
The Cobra artists looked to what they perceived as the innocent simplicity of children's art; and, turning their backs on Europe, found inspiration in the intuitive brilliance of so-called primitive cultures in Africa and Melanesia, which seemed far removed from the insanity of prewar Europe.

In a revolutionary manifesto issued by Cobra painter, Constant Nieuwenhuys (1920–2005), a provocative declaration was made about the nature of painting: «A painting is not a structure of colours and lines, but an animal, a night, a cry, a man, or all of these together.»

The founding Cobra artists were well-read, rebellious thinkers with a talent for art that was manifest early in life - and opposed by most of their parents. Their economic circumstances were such that sourcing materials proved a challenge. In the early years, Constant painted on sugar sacks, tablecloths and linen, sometimes having to sacrifice a painting when the linen was needed. The image had to be washed out and the sheet put back on the bed from whence it came.

Selected works of as many as fourteen artists associated with the Cobra movement will be exhibited at Bait Al Zubair in Colours of CoBrA, which will be open to the public commencing on 11th March 2015. This very special exhibition will include paintings, sculpture, ceramics and textile art.

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