Category Archives: Art Events

Weekend Art Fix: Omani architecture andCalligraffiti

I’ve just had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Oman, explore Muscat and learn a little about the aesthetic sensibilities of Muscat-dwellers, courtesy a knowledgeable local (an old friend) and  the (very educational) nibbles on Oman Air’s in-flight entertainment system.

Let me start by clarifying that I was in Muscat alone for the entire time I spent in the country. Immediately, I was struck by how closely the aesthetics of the city matched a romantic, Orientalist vision of the Middle East. It’s got all the  aesthetic magic of an Arabian Nights fairytale and the modern sensibilities and comforts of a major metropolis.

 

We started by exploring the Al Alam Palace grounds in Muscat which was a testament to simple and minimal

, yet grand Ibadi style of architecture. It’s rare to find a contemporary royal palace that maintains the fine balance between grand and tasteful, but Al Alam did not disappoint. The walk up to the palace was highlighted by cool speckled marble and elaborate domes. A unique feature of Omani architecture is an elaborate wooden panel on relatively low-lying, white concrete buildings.

I was fortunate enough to see the construction of the National Gallery opposite the main palace complex. The museum is expected to house the artifacts of Omani culture that lend it its unique identity.

From then on, we explored some of the more modern hotels that have been constructed to cater to tourists. First, the hotels are grand. Any traveler expecting the traditional Arabian hospitality will not be disappointed. We started with the Barr al-Jissah (Shangri-La) that successfully amalgamated the simplicity of the white box-like construction across the city, alongside other, more elaborate, modern interpretations of Islamic geometric Art.

View of the Shangri-La from above
More elaborate interior of the hotel

 

On a side note, the mountains on the winding drive up to the Resort have some beautiful murals  and other art on them, but be on the lookout for them, or you may miss documenting them like I did.

Art on the roundabout towards the Shangri-La

 

From there we stopped for brunch at the Chedi , enjoying the view of the black pool and refreshing Gin & Limoncello cocktails.

Main reception area at the Chedi
View from the Lobby Lounge of the Pool at the Chedi

 

The presence of these hotels is a testament to the adaptability of Omani culture to include expats, while preserving their cultural identity. The stark, minimal buildings often leave you wondering about the contemporary art scene in Oman, but it is apparently quite vibrant. The “movement” or style that particularly attracted my attention is Calligraffiti.

One of Madny Al Bakhry’s works

Traditional Islamic calligraphy is taught under the patronage of the Sultan at various art and religious schools across the country. It can take years to master, and requires intense dedication and attention to detail. The transcription of a single page of an officially sanctioned Quranic verse can take between 2-3 days. Emerging from this art form is a new art form described by its founder as “caligraffiti.” It uses elements of traditional calligraphy with influences of African and modern graffiti.

The founder of the movement is Omani artist Madny Al Bakry. His extensive body of work is testament to the traditional Arabic calligraphy and its scope as a vehicle of contemporary expression.  I personally feel that it is a beautiful expression of the traditional cultural relationship between Oman and Zanzibar due to their Ibadi roots. If you look through his entire body of work, the complex colors and patterns only highlight the beautiful simplicity of this aesthetic. I would even argue that the pattern progressions evoke the same level of minimalism as Rothko’s most famous pieces.

Madny as represented on his website
Madny as represented on his website

Other events throughout the city like the Enchated Kids Cinema , and the Royal Opera House all add to the continuing artistic heritage of Oman.  Like many cultures in the world today, Oman continues grappling with the perfect balance between tradition, adaptation and innovation, but the burgeoning arts scene and the governments sense of pride in its heritage leave plenty of promise for the art-oriented traveler in the future.

Royal Opera House at Muscat

 

 

 

 

 

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Katrin Sigurdardottir: “I just try to give through the making of my work”

Sigurdardottir speaks about the her Venice Biennale exhibition, on architecture and her work with The Art World Demystified by Yale Radio

Katrin Sigurdardottir

 [My work deals with] the look of architecture, without the function of architecture…[It’s] the skin of architecture, but it doesn’t have the skeleton of architecture

The Works of Sigurdardottir helped me contextualize this conversation.

On the Symposium and a potential conversation with an art critic on her latest body of work :

Something that I was thinking about as I finished my piece in Venice Paradox of the ship of Theseus [..] when the ship of Theseus has been taken apart piece by piece […] is it still the same ship that we began with?

On being asked about the role of the participant/viewer in her earlier works:

I am fundamentally interested in the parallel, and sometimes conflicting modes of perception…and how you are immersed in a sculpture and looking at it as a picture, and how [the body] fits into the picture

High Place

 

The Suitcase with “grass” that set her on her journey

 

The most important thing for every artist is to make the work in a way that is comfortable and suitable for [them]…It’s an ongoing process

Art Dubai 2014: An Expat’s Prespective

 

First, let me clarify that this is my first (and most likely last) Art Dubai. The event is an annual celebration of Contemporary Art in Dubai with adjacent events like the Art Week, Sikka Art Fair, Design Days etc.

View of the Madinat Canal
View of the Madinat Canal

Part of my experience of the event has been colored by living in countries with a longer history in fine arts like South Africa, India and Canada. However, knowing next to nothing about Contemporary Middle Eastern Art, I found the experience very educational.

View of the Art Dubai 2014 Venue from the Madinat
View of the Art Dubai 2014 Venue from the Madinat

Certain aspects of the event have been heavily commercialized, though I assume this is unavoidable in a heavily consumer driven economy like Dubai. For example, vending stalls sold food and beverages similar to what one might expect at a concert or sports stadium & the majority of attendees were more socialites than art aficionados. These minor criticisms aside the volume and quality of Middle Eastern art was a visual and intellectual delight.

I started my experience at the Art Dubai Modern section of the exhibition. The walk to the venue offered magnificent views of the Burj Al Arab and the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. It was disappointing to see that many artists were not in attendance, though they were represented by their Art Galleries.

Walk to the Art Dubai Modern section
Walk to the Art Dubai Modern section

I was particularly impressed with A Modernist Project for Lebanon by Michel Basbous. His sculptures echoed the archaeological value of Lebanon, while creating products that were unashamedly simple and modern.

Michel Basbous, A Modernist Project for Lebanon
Michel Basbous, A Modernist Project for Lebanon

Other artist’s work also caught my eye, specifically Syed Sadequain’s calligraphic, vast works and Anwar Jalal Shemza’s clear, precise aesthetic.

Anwar Jalal Shemza
Anwar Jalal Shemza
Syed Sadequain
Syed Sadequain

The Art Dubai Projects exhibition was much more prolific with works by Lalla Essaydi and Wiley Kehinde. In particular, seeing Lalla Essaydi’s response to early 20th Century Orientalism was interesting. Her female figures are also objectified, though at least, they do force a dialogue on Orientalism. The most striking piece of the exhibition was Place Soweto (National Assembly II) by Wiley Kehinde. The larger than life piece was both absorbing and confrontational.

Wiley Kehinde Place Soweto
Wiley Kehinde, Place Soweto, Oil on Canvas 305 x 229 cm, Galerie Daniel Templeton
Lalla Essaydi
A response to Orientalism

I was also fortunate enough to attend a conversation with Taus Makhacheva and Stephanie Bailey on Makhacheva’s art. She first explored the idea of obscenely ostentatious weddings in her native Dagestan. I especially liked her comments on her other work Endeavour. She said “[Endeavour] is about life…you know…me pushing against a rock for about 9 minutes and then giving up.”

Endeavour by Makhacheva
Endeavour by Makhacheva
Makhacheva's Talk on Dagestani Bridal Culture
Makhacheva’s dialogue on Dagestani Bridal Culture with Stephanie Bailey

The Cartier room was another highlight of the exhibition. If you are not impressed by their impressive craftsmanship on traditional jewelry, then their crystal “city-like” project more than compensated with its aesthetic, conceptual value and execution.

Cartier Sculpture
Cartier Sculpture
Cartier Sample
Cartier Sample

Overall, the exhibition was not a “traditional” art show in the sense that a gallery patron from a more developed art market may expect, but it was certainly educational and relayed more of the questions that Middle Eastern artists and collectors are grappling with than I expected.

 

View of the Venue by Night
View of the Venue by Night

 

LEGO Piece
LEGO Piece