When you pass by the winding lanes of old Muscat this week, most would be unaware that an artistic treasure trove with far-reaching implications lies concealed within one of the whitewashed old dwellings, a stone’s throw form the Al Alam Palace. You need to make an effort to stop by to get stumped in an instant with this sketchbook art exhibition!
Fikra art gallery (you can easily miss it when you drive by), located along the curve of the road after Bait al Zubair, on your way towards Al Bahri Road (Muttrah corniche), currently houses a unique exhibition of old-fashioned sketchbooks created by a batch of 30 talented artists in Oman. And if you’re wondering what’s special about it, you need to simply drop in for just a minute to soon realise how the exhibits engulf your psyche with a relentless grip.
Curator of the exhibition, Debjani Bhardwaj, said, “The exploration of ideas and preparatory study in sketchbooks is central to most artists’ studio practice. This exhibition celebrates the fundamental practice of sketch booking. The theme of the sketchbook art exhibition is a creative thinking word game – Name Place Animal Thing – which many of us might have played as children, with randomly chosen alphabets.”
Thirty artists were given a small sized sketchbook and requested to fill its pages with images of people, places, animals and things, using their own tools and chosen mediums. The artists were asked to channel their sketchbooks as a way of thinking, as a critical tool, as a means of observation, communication or representation.
“The interpretation of the theme by the artists in this exhibition are diverse and each book is unique. The direction chosen by the artists circle around memories, storytelling or personal identities. While some of the artists have based their sketchbooks on observational drawings or photographs, others have mined non-existent, imagined landscapes,” Debjani explained, adding, “While some artists have something linear to narrate, several others have used their sketchbooks as a method to document and observe what is hidden within the cervices of their subconscious minds.”
A sketchbook is often akin to a personal diary and provides glimpses into the mind of the artist. Most of the sketchbooks on display were diverse in their approach yet packed with idea that reflected how they perceived people, places and happenings around themselves through the years.
While some had abstract shades and some line drawings, some had intricate details engraved into images of landscapes, portraits, inanimate objects as well as thought-provoking concepts which seemed to leap out of the sketchbooks and seek absolute attention from viewers.
The participating artists of this sketchbook art exhibition were a mix of Omanis and expatriates, but it was difficult to distinguish their identities from the contents of each sketchbook, as they all conformed to the theme with such obedience that it could’ve been the output of a batch of school kids, each having a different degree of professional dexterity.
Senior participating artist, Elizabeth Davis (who had earlier participated in a virtual version of a similar exhibition on the same theme taken up by some Indian artists in Oman) asserted, “Virtual exhibitions have been a life saver during these COVID times and artists could continue to display their works in virtual galleries. But, I must say, that there is nothing like an actual exhibition. The visual impact of a painting can truly be appreciated only when you see the real thing!”
Laith Khalifa al Shiyadi
In this sketchbook, I created seven themes with various styles and moods. Each of them is an echo from a unique corner of my head.
My ‘Time and Space’ sketchbook is filled with the familiar, the mundane, the cheerful – beautiful, poetic spaces we built up during the uncertain times of the pandemic.
I am a visual storyteller, inspired by the realm of dreams and dreams within dreams. My works aim to be an eclectic mix of fiction and reality.
Fahad al Kindi
‘I am Name’ is a transcendence of the familiar game beyond words to look at visual language and signifiers, the language based on your beliefs, memories, experiences.
Reem al Shaikh
I opted for a street photography approach to capture, in abstract terms, Muttrah and old Muscat.
Bashair al Balushi
Mine is a 3D pop-up story book about two sisters and their cat wandering around the regions of Oman.
During the pandemic, I took time to slow down and appreciate my surroundings. My collection of drawings is simply this, moments of peace an joy at home.
Kawthar al Harthi
The works in my sketchbook are an attempt to examine new connections between my memories, imagination, daydreams and physical reality.