It was a huge learning experience for the 24 artists from different parts of Dhofar Region who took part in a personal and professional development workshop at the Omani Society of Fine Arts in Salalah recently.
The one-day event, held under the guidance of life-skills trainer, Helen Sayers, provided this talented group of painters and photographers with creative ways to improve communication, co-operation and consensus building skills. They also learnt how to enhance their concentration, reflection, critical thinking and mutual appreciation.
The workshop was arranged by Bait Muzna Gallery, Salalah, in association with the Omani Society of Fine Arts and Oasis Life Skills Training Services.
“It was an initiative of Her Highness Sayyida Susan Al Said, founder of Bait Muzna Gallery, who is keen to see Omani artists develop their soft skills along with their artistic talents,” Helen Sayers said, and added: “It was a social responsibility activity of the three partner organisations.”
“The workshop gave artists in Salalah with an opportunity to interact with a certified trainer and learn how to express their diverse yet creative ideas confidently. The subjects we covered would help them build up their profile in the local and international art community,” said Molly George, Manager, Bait Muzna Gallery.
Helen has been facilitating creative soft-skills courses and workshops in different parts of the world using the ancient African concept of Ubuntu.
“Ubuntu, which embodies generosity, warmth, inclusiveness and solidarity, is used as a framework to explore the role of universal values and ethics in professional development,” said Helen, who wrote a training manual ‘Ubuntu: the Spirit of Humanity’, which has been translated into Arabic, French, Spanish and Konkani.
After an opening ice-breaker through which the participants got to know each other, Helen introduced Ubuntu through a number of activities illustrated with stories from her own experience of working in the community in Africa and in Oman.
“The artists were guided through a series of exercises to explore innate personal values, recognize values in others and discover how universal values help in fostering harmonious relationship with others,” she said.
The workshop continued with a group activity where each group was asked to create an art work that would reflect Omani values to tourists arriving in Salalah. “They were given a few simple materials and just 15 minutes to complete the task.”
The participants surprised Helen as they came up with unique ideas. One group created a traditional palm frond fan from delicately woven strips of coloured paper, which would “greet the arriving tourists with a welcome breeze”. Members of the second group made a model of a traditional Omani dhow “to express the spirit of adventure of Omanis”, while the third group manufactured a miniature frankincense burner, representing the hospitality of Omani people. The strategy was to encourage the artists to work in unity, think creatively, and make quick decisions. Each group was rewarded with a token prize relating to a specific team-work skill that the trainer had observed during the exercise.
Khalid Al Khanbashi, who accompanied Helen as a translator-in-training, said that the workshop focused on values in life. “I feel values are eroding from the society as a result of our fast-paced lifestyle. It is time we brought those values back to our lives, and I can think of no better concept than Ubuntu in this effort.”
“One participant told me she felt empowered,” Khalid continued, “while another told me that he understood the meaning of his life after attending the workshop.”
According to Khalid, artists can spread the important messages through their work. “The more they believe in these values, it will be reflected in their artwork.”
“I hope that this initiative will be taken forward to other parts of the country,” Helen concluded.