Omani artist Alia Al Farsi.
Oman, a country neighboring Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, witnessed the opening of its largest private art gallery during the pandemic, Alia Gallery. A converted warehouse located in Muscat’s industrial area of Al Rusayl, the gallery is the brainchild of Omani artist Alia Al Farsi, one of the Sultanate’s most established artists. With a career spanning decades, Al Farsi has exhibited her work in cities such as Paris, Brussels, Seoul, Venice and Tokyo. But the gallery, which carries her name, remains her proudest achievement to date.
Stretching over two floors, the gallery displays a collection of Al Farsi’s versatile works from large-scale acrylic paintings to upcycled pieces, on the ground floor. The second floor, which overlooks the ground floor, is home to a warm cafe and library containing a range of arts and culture publications. Alia Gallery has become a space for locals and tourists to gaze upon authentic Omani art. Beyond viewing art, the space has also become a cultural hub to have meaningful conversations and for emerging artists to be inspired, and a favorite for businesses eager to launch their products in an artistic and cultural setting.
We speak to Al Farsi about her approach to designing the gallery, some of her favorite artworks exhibited there and what she would like Art & Object readers to know about Omani art.
Alia Gallery displays over 120 artworks by the artist, which are rotated regularly.
Sekka (S): How and why did the idea for opening your own art gallery emerge?
Alia Al Farsi (AF): It was my childhood dream to create my own space for art in Oman and the journey for this began in 1993. Since then, I have represented my country in numerous regional and international art fairs, the result of which has been the accumulation of a long list of clients and many artworks. By 2018, I felt that it was the right time to start working on my biggest art project yet, Alia Gallery.
S: Why did you decide to go for a warehouse, of all places?
AF: While transforming a warehouse into an art gallery might seem unusual in the Arab region, it is not uncommon in many parts of the world. In fact, there are many similar projects in the west, especially in the United States. I found this warehouse in a new area in the Al Rusayl Industrial City in 2018, back when there were no roads leading to it. The area is conveniently nestled between three major colleges and is located on the road from Muscat, the capital city of Oman, to the famous tourist hotspots, the historical city of Nizwa. The warehouse stretches over 860 square meters, which gave me the freedom to design and mold it the way I desired.
S: You were very hands on with this project. Describe your approach to designing the gallery.
AF: It had to speak in my voice. I designed it while keeping in mind that the venue should not only reflect my art, but also my personality and feelings. That’s why visitors will notice many of my personal items placed around the venue, such as my first ever pallet, my old photos, my collection of antiques and more. The looks and feel of the ground floor can be summarized in two words: elegance and class, while the second floor has a dimmer and cozier feel to it.
Behind Every Face by Alia Al Farsi.
S: How long did it take from the start of construction to opening day in 2020?
AF: It took me around two years. I could have done it faster if not for some bureaucratic issues.
S: Why the decision to include a library and cafe on the second floor? How important is it that the gallery becomes a community place?
AF: To me, literature and art are inseparable. Writing is one of the finest and most sophisticated mediums of art and that’s why I added a library to encourage visitors to read, and connect the two forms of art. The café, on the other hand, was a spontaneous decision. I had not planned it in the initial part of the project. However, due to customers’ demand, I built a new balcony on top of the gift shop and connected it with the library through a pedestrian bridge. The café is currently operated by Arte Café, an Omani specialty coffee brand.
S: Tell us about some of the most memorable events that have happened there so far.
AF: We hosted the launch of the new Aston Martin Valhalla, a million-dollar supercar in November 2021. This was the first private event we had. The second private event was our online gallery launch at Khaleeji Art Museum. The gallery also hosted a musical production video for renowned Omani singer Ayman Nasser. The song, composed by famous Omani composer Sayyid Khalid Al Busaidi, was a hit in the Arab Gulf States and was screened on Rotana TV. We currently host a weekly cultural show for Oman TV.
From the launch of Alia Al Farsi’s digital gallery at the Khaleeji Art Museum.
S: Approximately how many artworks can the space hold? How often are they rotated?
AF: Alia Gallery is home to 120 paintings and artworks. I rotate them every two weeks.
S: How would you describe your style of art?
AF: I am a follower of Abstract Expressionism, so I set my contemplation and consciousness free to create visual images that I depict on canvases. I consider my art style to be eclectic and unclassifiable. All my works are results of real-life experiences that affect me directly or indirectly. Within this vein of abstract art, I utilize influences from Sufism in order to communicate the self-reflection prevalent within my own artistic vision.
S: What inspires your work? What are the themes you enjoy depicting?
AF: I am constantly inspired by my homeland, Oman, a place where authenticity, family and culture are not only well-preserved, but honored and celebrated as well. Being an Omani innately connects me to the land and its people, and as an artist who is quite introspective in her work, it has become quite natural for me to draw on this large part of my identity in my art. However, even as a mere onlooker I believe I would still be drawn to this land. It represents a fusion of the corporeal and the spiritual set against its own beautiful natural backdrop.
My strong interest in the philosophies of Sufism is definitely a prevalent theme depicted in my works as well. I try to capture its spiritual essence within the movements, facial expressions and reflective looks of my figures in the paintings. Symbolically, Sufism takes shape within my work due to the way I continue to contemplate my own identity in relation to the art and create pieces reflecting my own relationships with the physical and spiritual world.
Nations and Tribes by Alia Al Farsi.
S: What are some of your favorite pieces that are currently on display in your gallery? Tell us about them.
AF: New Dawn is one my all-time favorites; it is my latest large work of art that depicts an oriental cityscape. The colors that I used in this piece are unlike any I had used before; the piece is loud, vibrant and full of life. To me, it is a statement about starting a new chapter, one that is full of hope and energy. But the gallery’s flagship piece is But Mostly Me. This painting was the first painting I made after Alia Gallery’s construction was completed. It is my reward for completing this project. But Mostly Me is an abstract self-portrait that resembles everything I cherish: Omani heritage, positive quotes and the sense of achievement.
I am also in love with the piece Nations and Tribes, that is currently on display at the Primeclass Lounge in Muscat International Airport. Its story says:
“In our travels, we are greeted by faces of different colours and ethnicities
Their temperaments vary, the warm souls, and coy ones
Amid the crowd, a pair of eyes search for a face
To pick from the stream, and place in her heart.”
S: Tell us about some of your upcycled pieces, which differ from your usual approach. What was the thought process there?
AF: I think my favorite aspect of the upcycled pieces is that they are different in medium from the usual canvas works that I do, but I believe these pieces still possess some of my signature style. To me, everything can be turned into art. The ancient cityscape art piece that stands in the back of the gallery was completely made using the leftovers from the gallery’s construction site. The process was simple. I saw an empty wall and leftovers. I saw potential, and worked on it.
S: If you could relay one thing to Art & Object readers about Omani art, what would you say?
AF: Omani art creates a bridge between beauties–natural, physical and spiritual. It leaves those who observe it both content and that much more curious about it. Omani art is also still finding its audience as visual art represents a fairly recent field of interest in the country. Therefore, this art also presents Omanis with a new way of looking at their own country. Oman is also a melting pot of cultures thanks to its geographic proximity to the Indian subcontinent, other Arab States, Africa and Iran. This results in unique art that merges different styles.
To find out more about Alia Gallery, please visit www.aliagallery.com and instagram.com/aliagallery_art.
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Omani artist Alia Al Farsi.