A unique exhibition by an artist duo at Stal Gallery unveils a magical world
Through a mysterious mix of toys and paper cut-outs, ceramic sculptures and shadows, a unique exhibition at Stal Gallery attempts to portray vibrant shades of Oman’s cultural heritage which may be fast dying in the face of rapid urbanisation.
The joint exhibition by artists Debjani Bhardwaj and Rawan al Mahrouqi take the viewer into a new world where fantasy stands juxtaposed with reality, and where conflicting messages related to human existence together convey common insights into the past.
‘Telling Tales’, which was inaugurated on April 1, continues at the gallery for two weeks, but the exhibits on display seem to have the potential to set one’s mind a roller-coaster ride that doesn’t have a culmination. The works on display are supported by explicit lighting and sound effects that unleash a magical ambience within that makes one linger long.
While Debjani chose to explore the parallels between the contemporary human condition and the traditional folk tales of Oman, Rawan highlights a contemporary social commentary behind these tales. The former creates an alternate universe inhabited by characters from traditional stories while the latter brings to light the inhibitions and fears of most individuals in the form of supernatural figures that seem to hover around all human settlement.
Hailing from Kolkata, India, Debjani, who has an MA in Fine Art from the University for the Creative Arts, UK, has widely exhibited her works in different countries over the past decade besides
illustrating two children’s books. She currently lives and works in Muscat.
Rawan is a multidisciplinary contemporary Omani artist whose work focuses on the female experience in the Arabian Gulf and ‘the thin line between tradition and religion’.
Her works tend to be neutral, asking questions without giving an opinion, and she plays around the definition of the word ‘Jinn’ through charcoal illustrations and life-sized wood cutouts.
Debjani, who describes her work as an expression of her own self as well as of her curiosity about what goes on within the minds of people around her, says she loves labour-intensive artworks – like paper cutting, clay modelling/sculpting – wherein the process is itself enjoyable rather than the end result.
“Instead of the complete piece, the whole journey of making the piece itself is very exciting. I love accidents, I like adventure, I don’t like to have a predicted outcome, I like the work to take its own shape. So the process is very important for me,” said Debjani explaining that her work in this exhibition is more about folklore and traditions of yore in the sultanate that most people may be unaware of.
On the other hand, Rawan admitted, “I’m still trying to discover what my style is and what I stand for. My work is mostly a social commentary and about women. In this exhibition, Debjani’s work is about characters and stories while my work is more darker with hidden meanings. It’s about things we face in everyday life.”
Debjani also pointed out the contrast between both their works in this joint exhibition wherein one deals with fantasy while the other touches upon reality. The common chord between both, however, was the fact that both works are inspired by Omani culture and both point towards a set of values and beliefs that have their roots in the past but implications for the present.
Asked if there was need for more diverse expression in contemporary art in Oman, Rawan said budding artists were indeed attempting to expand the horizons of contemporary art by experimenting with multi media and multi dimensional artisitic expressions. She, however, added that new expressions through art need not be controversial to draw attention towards it.
Debjani further explained that contemporary art deals with things that are ‘present’ rather than those which merely represent the past and pointed out how her paper cut craft seeks to convey old stories and traditions through a modern skill.
“I like interactive pieces wherein the audience is in charge and where they have more freedom to view it in the way they want,” she said, explaining that one of her unique creations is a shadow display wherein a variety of ideas are projected in a creative fashion. The shadows are a highlight of her works on display at the current exhibition.
Rawan was of the opinion that there was need for more funding and more establishments where artists can showcase their work as well as upgrade themselves.
“It’s not enough to be good as an artist; one needs sponsors for support, one needs gallery representation, but it is very difficult in Oman,” she said, adding that even media coverage wasn’t adequate as great shows happen but very little gets publicised.