Man of the museum: Oman’s Bait Al Baranda director
August 20, 2015 | 1:00 PM
by T.A. Ameerudheen

It is hard to miss the charming ancient monument near the Mutrah Corniche. The distinctive old Portuguese house was home to the American Mission in the early 1930s and then the British Council in the late 1970s before finally being converted into the Bait Al Baranda museum in 2006.

The museum aimed to help people trace the history of Muscat through interactive displays and exhibits. It also hosted art shows, book launch functions, photography training sessions, and children’s art workshops, becoming a cultural hub in Muscat.

The director, Malik Al Hinai, served as a member of the Royal Guard as a soldier, as the marketing manager for Oman International Bank and then for Grand Hyatt, but it was his love for art that was at the heart of the Muscat Municipality’s well-placed faith.

“We began from scratch. The lessons learnt during my visits to renowned museums around the world came handy during various stages of Bait Al Baranda’s development. Nothing makes me happier than the success story of the museum. It has been going from strength to strength for the last nine years,” Malik said.

With Muscat Municipality giving him a free hand in administration, Malik has had been able to implement innovative plans.

“I thank the Muscat Municipality officials for giving me the freedom. They trusted me from the beginning and never interfered in my plans. They never turned down my proposals. It helped me think out of the box and make the place lively.”

One of his first plans was to establish good rapport with the local community. “We organised summer workshop for children in Mutrah area to help them develop their skills. It gave underprivileged children a different perspective about life. It ensured our relevance in the local community. We have just completed the ninth edition of the workshop,” he said.

Malik then used his excellent networking skills to invite renowned artists and curators from around the world. “We showcased works of famous painters such as Picasso, Dalí, Miró, Braque, Warhol, and Chagall from the Opera Gallery in Dubai. People from different parts of Oman came to enjoy those priceless works. The event could not be continued after 2009 as I began to associate with Muscat Festival, Muscat Fashion Week, Muscat Food Festival and Muscat Arts Festival.”

But his hectic schedule and huge responsibilities never tire him. Instead, he cherishes every moment of his professional life.

“The most memorable day in my career was when Grand Mufti His Eminence Sheikh Ahmed Al Khalili visited the museum to inaugurate Turkish-German Calligraphy artist Mustafa Anlas’ exhibition in 2010. It was my idea to invite Grand Mufti as the works showcased 99 different names of Allah. My colleagues tried to dissuade me, but I persisted. I felt happy when I saw him leave the museum with a smile,” he said.

In another example of Malik’s perseverance, a fan of the late Michael Jackson, he yearned for years to meet the legendary singer.

“He was my icon and I always wanted to meet him. Years later, I got the opportunity to meet him when he visited Times of Oman. That’s why I believe nothing is impossible in life.”

Malik is also known as a good art critique. “I don’t like every piece of art, and I look at works with a critic’s eye.” And he appreciates artists who are humble and know their limits. “I have a problem with the local artists who put a huge price tag on their works. Some of them work only for monetary purpose, and not for creative purpose.”

With Bait Al Baranda gearing up to celebrate its 10th anniversary next year, Malik hopes to see many changes at the museum.

“I would love to set up a small library to cater to the needs of children. Reading is on the wane. It is high time we inculcated the habit in them. I also wish to see a major revamp of the display items. Besides, I want to recreate the old Mutrah of 1950 in one of the rooms, where people can experience the sight and sounds.”

With passion, resoluteness, and an unwavering belief that nothing is impossible in life, Malik Al Hinai’s contributions continue to grow and ripple through Muscat, new and old.

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