With the colours of life radiating from his flamboyant persona – quite evident from his comely disposition, lustrous locks, bold tattoos, chunky jewellery, chic stoles, et al – Ibrahim Gailani, an expatriate artist in Oman, had something quite unique about himself that set him apart from the rest. And how!
Gailani, a self taught contemporary artist and art teacher of Iraqi-Pakistani descent in Oman, who believes that his creativity stems from his deep belief in mystical Sufism which constantly keeps one on the path of self refinement, now steps into a new unknown chapter of his life. He will be leaving Oman this week due to a sudden turn of events which delivered a new mandate for him.
The founder of Oman’s popular Art Retreats, which introduced art to scores of people of diverse backgrounds, Gailani had also started a virtual series called Art Beats last year to enable art enthusiasts in Oman to pick up valuable tips from seasoned artists. He has also curated numerous exhibitions in Oman as well as showcased his artworks in the Middle East, Europe and North America over the past decade. So, leaving behind a huge cauldron of his diverse artistic pursuits may not be easy for Gailani as his potion is still brewing and the effervescence of his toil has yet to rise.
Having come to Oman in 2009 on a job at Oman Arab Bank, Gailani says he had been instantly enamoured and inspired by the hospitable populace and the old world charm of Oman. Though he was not a professional artist, he decided to take up painting as a hobby. And when three of his works, that featured in ‘Art for Atta’a’ at Bait al Zubair, got sold on the opening night itself, it propelled him forward in the world of art.
After this, his ambitious initiative to hold an exhibition of 100 artworks for cancer awareness – Art 100 by 100 – received the support of Hon Yuthar al Rawahi, the founder president of the Oman Cancer Association, and proved to be a huge success. That put Gailani on the art map of Oman in a big way and many more initiatives followed, including creation of the Gailani Art Retreat, for people to express themselves through painting and music. Over a period of six years, around 900 people have participated in 56 art retreats that followed.
“My art then got more focussed. I used to do abstracts but soon started doing faces, and then I developed a genre of ‘pop-art’ – non-classical, vibrant colours inspired by American artist Andy Warhol – and street graffiti which became my signature style and took me to many international art events where I represented Oman,” said Gailani, adding that he always represented Oman, rather than his native country – Pakistan.
As a message for artists in Oman, Gailani says, “The newer generation of artists in Oman, doing from experimental street art to installations, makes me very hopeful. The continued push for art in different genres and the efforts put in by many different art galleries for avant garde shows, shows that there is a willingness. But, what I really hope for, is to have a formal art college in Oman where a fine arts degree is awarded, as against providing art curriculums.” He also hoped that more Omani artists participate in international art events and exhibitions to come face to face with global trends and create their very own narrative to showcase to the world.
Reason for leaving
Gailani would’ve loved to stay on in Oman for many more years but a sudden turn of events has compelled him to bid goodbye to the sultanate which gave him a new identity and purpose in life.
The sudden death of his brother has necessitated his retreat from Oman, since he needs to be with his old parents who need his support. “It was a tough decision to pack up and leave, especially to conclude my life as I knew it here and start afresh. In these difficult times, making a new start anywhere is difficult, but family and parents come first,” he said.
Gailani admits that, moving on, he would miss the warm Omani hospitality, since most of his friends are Omani, and that’s what makes leaving more difficult for him. The elements of respect, humility, and courtesy which he encountered aplenty in Oman, are the treasured aspects of Oman which will stay with him forever, wherever he goes, he said.
Awards and accolades
Gailani won three international awards, including a Coffee Art Award in New York city in 2016, a Critics Award at Show Your World Art Festival in New York in 2017, for a painting as a tribute to Syrian refugees, and Best International Artist in 2018 at Art Vancouver where he walked the ramp holding aloft an Omani flag.
“These were incredible moments in my life,” said Gailani, adding that the most memorable moment, however, was his teaming up with Omani author-philosopher Dr Saleh al Fahdi for a project called Call for Peace (a Unicef initiative) wherein 150 school children in Oman, representing 100 different nationalities, together created a collage which was displayed at Muscat Grand Mall.
Gailani was felicitated in this regard by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, H E Yusuf al Alawi, and presented a certificate of honour for his efforts, but the icing on the cake was the fact that Oman Post picked that collage and brought forth a commemorative stamp in this regard.