#OmanPride: Gailani is banker to the core, artist at heart
December 11, 2015 | 8:54 PM
by MOBIN MATHEW BLESSON/[email protected]

Muscat: Ibrahim Gailani, a contemporary artist living in Muscat boarded a plane to Muscat seven years ago. He was unsure about his future, which involved taking up a corporate job at the Oman Arab Bank.

Already going through a transformation internally, Oman gave Gailani the room to establish his studio and emerge out of the “Ibrahim—the Corporate Executive” shell as “Gailani—the Artist.” Today, Gailani has become a complete brand in Oman that encompasses all things art. From “Curated by Gailani” events, to “Gailani Art Retreat” and to “Gailani Art Talks,” there is no escaping brand Gailani in Oman.

For Gailani, who is also a member of the Omani Society of Fine Arts, it has been a conscious effort to bring art to the people, to offer insights to the non-artists, and use social media to spread the philosophy of art that has been the greatest success of Gailani.

Whether it is an art opening of a 12-year-old student’s work, or judging 900 paintings by children for His Majesty the Sultan, to assembling street graffiti artist, Gailani is always present. It is his commitment to the art scene in Oman that has gathered a lot of respect, even from those who otherwise may not favour his modern artistic style.

Perhaps it is that passion that has gotten translated into cyber space as his art website has won the 2014 Gold Award in the “Art & Culture” Category in the Sultanate of Oman.

“It has been a love affair with Oman and the love and respect I have found as an artist has fuelled me to keep going, even as I take on the 5 Art project, along with my retreat and a tough corporate job because I want to give all I have to make some difference in this beautiful land I now call home,” Gailani told TOO.

Always dressed in elaborate scarves, necklaces and bracelets, with flowing grey hair, his appearance makes a statement, and that statement continues to be his spiritual philosophy and love for “being present in the now.”

This passion of being “present in the now” and not taking the baggage of life forward are front and centre of Gailani’s extremely successful venture into Art Retreats. With over 500 attendees and 35 retreats spread over two years, they have become a hub of creativity in Muscat, and indeed Oman.

The Gailani Art Retreats are a full-day “artistic escape” retreat that are held once a month and bring together creative souls to paint global music rhythms.

Participants meditate, connect with their inner consciousness, and paint their feelings on canvas, and then share with the entire group. One doesn’t need to be a trained artist for these retreats, just willing to let creativity flow.

Photographers, musician, writers, doctors and lawyers also attend to let the blockages of their world be released through art. It is a full-day retreat, where a topic of the day is discussed and explored, with initial meditation, followed by a painting, listening to world music, and then a group discussion.

Gailani, who once attended an art retreat himself, said it really transformed both his art and his outlook, and hence decided to start his own retreats. Each retreat has a specific topic, and a customized music designed and arranged specially for the retreat.

“Looking back, I could not have imaged the success,” Gailani said.

Gailani is a self-taught contemporary artist, whose journey to art is a path embarked upon through a collage of rebellion, debate, redemption, and a search for inner strength.

As a child, “I could paint better than write,” recalled Gailani, who started as early as five- year-old, but was not always encouraged for fear of being “a starving artist on the streets.” Pressured to pursue a corporate career, Gailani stopped pursuing art altogether.

Twenty years later as a top executive in the corporate world, when he found himself in extreme darkness, his life partner handed him a canvas and said “you have a lot to say, use this to say it” and the rest is history. Gailani refers to himself as the “debating artist,” who comments on struggles of individuals and society in coming to terms with the demons we lock away. It’s a look at the steps we take on the different paths we choose.

Gailani’s Sufi family roots emerge from Baghdad, Iraq. The Sufi heritage of Gailani has opened the door to what is currently being dubbed as “Spiritual Art.”

One of his greatest influences is the Mexican artist Frida Khalo. Gailani’s love for her work is a deeply personal one.

“Frida is my hero. Her journey of pain coupled with the vibrancy of colours and the constant self-reflection struck me to my core and has the greatest impact on the type of work I produce. In a strange way, I feel like I relive her life through her work and I find her guiding me in mine,” Gailani said.

“Frida Khalo has been my biggest inspiration in art, it is her life that inspired me to re-discovery my art and love for faces, and stories around faces. Every story that she painted impacted the core of my being,” he added.

He recently made a tribute painting for Frida in pop-art.

“I’ve titled this painting “My Warhol Frida–My Hero, My Strength” to not only pay tribute to her as my Idol, but to also pay tribute to the Andy Warhol style of pop-art painting that I have drawn inspiration from in my recent works,” Gailani explained.

“Bold,” “in your face,” “captivating,” “repulsive” are some of the words used to describe Gailani’s work. Not known for being subtle, his canvas always makes a statement. Whether you love it or hate it aesthetically, you can’t walk past one of his works and not have an opinion about it.

“I always feel that art needs to evoke emotions it needs to scream out to you, it needs to touch you, it needs you to ask further questions, it needs you to demand answers. What art doesn’t need is for you to pass by with a casual glance,” Gailani said.

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