Contemporary Art in Oman: Artists

Hassan Meer is the recipient of several awards and is one of the best known Omani artists internationally. He grew up in Muscat and later went on to complete his BA and MA in Fine Arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design, Georgia, USA. While abroad he began to develop his practices in both painting and video art. Upon his return to Muscat, he formed ‘The Circle’ collective with a group of his pioneering peers and organised the first Circle exhibition in 2000. The inaugural and subsequent Circle editions have aimed to nurture and promote experimental art methodologies in Oman. The Circle group has gained a wide following and reach beyond Muscat, and now includes artists and collaborators spanning the rest of the Gulf, Pakistan, Lebanon, South Africa, Austria, Japan, Morocco, and Germany. Meer’s ultimate aim was to channel this mission into an exhibition space, which has been achieved through his directorship at Muscat’s newly opened Stal gallery.

Meer’s practice examines questions of identity, and is deeply rooted in the spiritual domain. He has a long research interest in ancient magic rituals and examines the ripples they have made in today’s society. Meer also questions the function of time, often portraying personal family memories and generations of his own family. He believes that legends which exist are always around us, and since his childhood has been fascinated by the courses we take as a result of these forces and energies.

Budoor Riyami

A prominent member of The Circle and a co-collaborator for the Stal programme is Budoor Riyami. Riyami completed her studies at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat and has since exhibited throughout the Gulf. Riyami’s practice consists of installation and multimedia work, utilising complex layering techniques to blur the boundaries of public and private space.

“In the Stone Age man used to draw on stone. Then why shouldn’t we use modern technologies when science has developed?” Riyami has continued to explore these techniques through a diverse range of outlets including environments, collage, and installation art.

Budoor Riyami, First Steps Photographic Series, 2010. Images courtesy of the artist.

Raiya Al Rawahi

If we view Meer and Riyami as the first ‘Circle’ generation, then one of the leaders of the current generation is self-taught sound installation artist Raiya Al Rawahi. Her influences come from a multitude of sources, ranging from philosophy to medicine, and her most recent sound installation Questioning Religion was awarded first prize for the inaugural Stal Gallery Young Emerging Artist Prize. Al Rawahi describes the piece as, ‘Sounds and objects used to represent a journey from indoctrination to skepticism to enlightenment.’

Rawahi’s work mainly consists of documenting and repositioning daily objects accompanied by her visceral soundtracks. Her particular interest lies in the discrepancies we live with, the tensions and peaceful harmonies of our daily existence.

Raiya Rawahi. Images courtesy of Stal Gallery.

Muzna Al Musafer

Another vibrant artist of the current generation is video artist Muzna Al Musafer. Al Musafer employs a documentary-narrative style, with a focus on reclaiming identity and the importance of agency and voice. She completed her studies at Kuwait University and later went on to study Swedish cinema and television at Stockholm University. Recently on view in Oman, her first film ‘Niqab’ displayed Al Musafer in a range of the roles that she enacts in her daily life. Al Musafer repositions traditional and modern dress as disguises and ornaments, and demands that the viewer question whether these veneers alter her fundamental being, and by extension, the way we view one another.

Her second film Cholo premiered at the Dubai Film Festival in 2013 and was laterscreened at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African Arts, the Institute de Monde Arabe, and TV5 Monde.

Muzna Musafer, video still from Niqab, 2010. Image courtesy of Stal Gallery.

By AISHA MAZIN STOBY

Aisha Mazin Stoby is a researcher and curator. She is currently completing her PhD in Modern Art Movements in the Arab Gulf at SOAS, University of London. Recent exhibitions include Salon Oman Noor at Leighton House Museum in London, the Spirit of the Union for the occasion of the UAE’s 43rd National Day at the New York Public Library and Oman et La Mer, exploring Oman’s trade histories at the Maritime Museum in Paris.