Hassan Meer: Reflection from the Memory series, 2009

Hassan Meer: Reflection from the Memory series, 2009

Oman is a newcomer to the Gulf contemporary arts scene. For the time being, the focus of artistic development policies appear to lay on music: traditional (oud), classical Western, and ‘world’ music, with many interesting fusion experiments in the offing. The construction of a Royal Opera House in Muscat that opened its doors to the public in October 2011, seems to confirm this choice. It has much to do with the personal predilections of Sultan Qaboos, the ruler of Oman, who has taken a direct interest in the programming of music festivals in the past, and who created the Royal Oman Symphonic Orchestra in the 1980s.

On the visual arts side, Oman is slowly emerging. There are only a few art galleries in Muscat, and only one of note dealing with contemporary art, Bait Muzna. The Omani Society of Fine Arts has its own gallery, showing the work of local and a few expatriate artists. The society provides workshop space for artists and plans to offer residencies to foreign artists in the future. There are also some temporary exhibition spaces, for example at the Bait Al Zubair museum and in luxury hotels, but that is about it.

Oman does, however, have the potential of developing a lively contemporary arts scene. This is due to its fascinating history and the important regional role it played from the 15th to the 19th Century, being a conduit for cultural cross-fertilization between the Gulf, East Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Oman’s artistic community is strongly rooted within the country’s cultural history, setting it apart from its counterparts in the Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait, which seem oriented abroad. This actually provides an opportunity for Oman, as the thriving art hubs of the Gulf are not far away, providing Omani artists with a market and an audience.