Each door opened up into a mystical realm, cut away from reality yet inspired by reality itself… And as one walked out of each room, insights from the installations rang a bell in some way, connecting with one’s own life and situation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The past two weeks saw a beeline of visitors at Fikra gallery, in old Muscat, wherein a thought-provoking exhibition – You Can’t Be Here – displayed five intriguing installations by a group of female, Omani artists, curated by Zawraq Collective. For the first time, the focus of the exhibition was totally on three-dimensional installations where every artwork appealed to the senses – you could see, hear, smell, and touch what was on display.
The exhibition was generated as a cross-disciplinary artistic effort to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the creation, display, and consumption of art. But, you can’t be there now as the exhibition, which saw over 5000 visitors, concluded on Saturday evening.
Zawraq Collective comprises three artists – Noor al Mahruqi, Zaima al Adawi, and Ankita Sadarjoshi – who began working together in the summer of 2021 in an attempt to articulate a new way of curating budding local artists.
Their shared backgrounds in arts education and theatre formed the basis of their collaboration. Zawraq Collective’s self-proclaimed objectives are to foster rich partnerships between artists and curators, to propose a radical shift in what can be considered ‘art’ in gallery contexts, and to provide a bustling community of artists with platforms to display new works, a statement said.
You Can’t Be Here was conceptualised as a response to the draining of senses collectively felt by all those who experienced COVID-19 as ‘an evacuation of art and bodies’ in public spaces. Inspired by ideas of interactivity between audiences and artworks, the artists on display at this exhibition have rendered their versions of the theme in the form of installations, video art, scent-based work, and more, Maya al Barwani, Fikra spokesperson, disclosed.
“The whole exhibition was inspired by how COVID-19 affected our senses. During the pandemic, we all went through a lot, and people suffered trauma or lost their sense of taste/smell, or had emotional upheavals. In this exhibition the artists were told, ‘if you had to give form to artwork which can be touched, felt or smelt, what would it be?’ And they came up with really meaningful installations,” Maya said.
The artists who worked on the installations included Tanya Shamil, Samah al Ansari, Bashayer al Nuaimi, Fatma Abdulaziz, Amnah al Ghailani, Umayma al Hinai, Razan al Humaidi, Reem Falaknaz, Farah al Adawy and Marwa al Bahrani.
Zaima al Adawi, one of the three curators, told Muscat Daily, “Our role in this exhibition was mainly to support the participating artists which, we believe, can reach an international standard some day. The whole idea was to create a theme that any visitor that enters can relate to. That’s why we picked what the artists can do with their five senses during COVID-19 and we are very happy with the outcome.”
Umayma, a co-artist who worked on Scent Diary – which comprised a room lined with mirrors, encircling a set of lamps over a podium that bore aromatic cloves, oil, coffee and salt and candle – said the experience was quite interesting as well as fulfilling. Every participating artist displayed good coordination so as to add collaborative value to the final result.
“Scent Diary is an installation that engages the sense of smell and it was quite an interesting process. We came up with an idea and an initial plan but it changed and evolved as we went about the installation, with a few challenges. The initial idea of using battery-powered lamps was replaced with an electrical connection,” she disclosed. Umayma was joined by Razan al Humaidi in creating this artwork.
I Exist Where You Stand was another installation created by Tanya Shamil, featuring Aisha Bakry in a video that highlighted harrowing currents of isolation and social detachment. Wasted Youth Shopping by Samaah al Ansari and Bashayer al Naaimi indicated a mini mart as the only source of outing during the lockdowns when people could only venture outdoors to buy groceries.
On the other hand, Teryaq by Fatma Abdulaziz and Amna Khalid, was inspired by a Jamaican traditional medicine and the chaos that the pandemic inflicted on the world, while Talisman, by Reem Falaknaz and Moylin Yuan drew attention to ‘talismans’ (good-luck charms) which were believed to have magical powers to protect the bearer against harm.