January 21st, 2016
Review: Reinterpreting the Contemporary—Loud Art Oman
Muscat, Oman—Once dismissed as a blip on the cultural map for decades, Oman is finally getting some much deserved attention as an important node of contemporary art in the Gulf. Walking into Loud Art, an exhibition of 39 artists from across the Gulf, at Bait Al Zubair and Gallery Sarah, one can begin to perceive an entirely new horizon of contemporary art in the often overlooked GCC country.
The title of the exhibition—Reinterpreting the Contemporary—though simply worded, presents a constellation of complex, conceptual and socially engaged works, providing an important entry point for understanding a new generation of young Omani artists.
Mohammad Al Kindi’s The Perfect Sandwich, offers one such example, depicting in still life a bag of Chips Oman (an immensely popular brand in the country), a croissant, cheese and hot dogs on a plate, set against a neutral background. The work—with its indubitable presence of materiality—symbolically unveils the zeitgeist of the popular imaginary in Oman. Relationally, it can be seen in lineage with the grace and stillness of Wayne Thiebaud’s painting Hot Dog with Mustard (1964), offering to the viewer a humorous comment on gustatory pleasures, all within a distinctively Oma-ni context.
Other more socially engaged works in the exhibition include Raiya Al Rawahi’s installation Habi-tat, investigating hierarchies of domestic space and class. The installation consists of a bed with fake grass, a series of metal nests and signs that display “identity bias,” evoking the dualism between domestic space and the (im)purity of bodies within them.
Similarly, Ali Al Sharji’s In Those Five Days dissects the intersectional issues of gender and identity. The rectangular black and white photograph tells the story of Hawaa (Eve), considered the first woman in Arabic culture, upon her otherworldly descend into the heavens. Al Sharji explores how the role of women—particularly the opportunities they are given—is often limited and confined within Arab culture. And therein lies a curious paradox. As a male artist, Al Sharji is challenging the orthodoxy of Arab feminism and in doing so advocates for greater visibility and opportunities for women.
All told, the exhibition marks an important point of departure for contemporary art in Oman. What remains to be seen is how this will reverberate into the future, and whether or not this represents a shift towards a more socially engaged and critical aesthetic, or whether institutions and artists will return to the same old tired format: art for art’s sake and design masquerading as art. Only time will tell.
Loud Art—Reinterpreting Contemporary runs until February 11, 2016.