By Manar Al Hinai
I was first introduced to H.H. Sayyida Meyyan Shihab Al Said’s work through social media a few years ago. They say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and her work is nothing but the reflection of the beauty she captures across Oman’s terrains, and natural landscapes around the world.
One of my favorite works by her, titled Where there is light follow it, features a man at sea standing on a kayak, floating on clouds and a blue sky, against a bright yellow horizon. The reflection and the merging of the sky and sea, has the man and his kayak floating in a serene setting, and it washes me with calmness every time I look at it. The focus on nature, reflections and colourful landscapes is evident throughout Sayyida Meyyan’s work. A combination of digital art and photography, her work transports the viewer to a surreal parallel universe, one where imagination is unbounded, and appreciation for nature is great.
Sayyida Meyyan has always been fascinated by the idea of being able to capture and forever record the beauty of the scenes she visits, especially in her favorite locations in Oman: Salalah and Al Jabal Al Akhdar. Her photography journey began with a special gift from her father over a decade ago. “When I was a teenager, my father gave me my first camera that I took on a road trip through the terrains of the Sultanate, and I was addicted to cameras ever since” she tells me.
While nature is the main focus of Sayyida Meyyan’s work, horses and flowers in particular are recurring subjects, and perhaps one of the first things a visitor to her Instagram page, in which she showcases her work, would notice. “Throughout history, horses and flowers have possessed a magical symbolism only known by the ancestors of the land,” she says, adding that living in a tech-savvy day and age has unfortunately made many of us forget the symbolism behind the things around us. “Horses usually represent power, endurance and freedom, as they are wild spirits…while flowers usually represent dedication, flexibility, luck and prosperity, amongst other things,” she explains.
Sayyida Meyyan discusses how her work and technique have evolved throughout the years, just like the surroundings she continuously explores. She loves to experiment with photo editing, especially with incorporating text and digital art in her photography. To best illustrate the evolution of her style, she borrows the following quote by Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, “I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.” She adds to that by stating, “My work definitely developed through multiple trials and error phases until it became what it is today.”
With an educational background in interior design and design strategy, Sayyida Meyyan explains how her education impacted her photography whether consciously or subconsciously. “Design and innovation both require creativity and out of the box thinking, and so this is reflected in the way I produce a digital photography piece,” she says.
Sayyida Meyyan’s Reflections – her first solo digital art gallery, and the first to be held outside of Oman in the Khaleeji Art Museum, is inspired by Oman’s landscapes, elements of nature and the human mind and its ability to imagine the unimaginable. “Each area of Oman has been blessed with a different kind of beauty and there is always a story to tell,” she says. “My artwork is but fragments of my vast imagination.”
With 13 works currently on display in the Khaleeji Art Museum, Sayyida Meyyan discusses how it is difficult to point out one particular favourite, because each has a story or a special memory associated with it. “If I were to choose, it would be Eternal…It reminds me of all that is ethereal and wonderful in this life, which to me is mostly ever evolving colours and shapes of nature. The paper boat in the picture represents us humans who ‘float’ along this life of wonderment not knowing where it’ll take us to next,” she reveals.
Sayyida Meyyan’s latest art gallery reminds us that nature’s elements, no matter how far apart in distance they may seem to be, are interconnected, and are reflections of each other. The artworks on display in the Museum have been taken across different countries in the world, with some works incorporating elements of photographs taken in two or three different countries, merged perfectly into one work, thus proving that the integration of different elements always results in a beautiful work of art.
The young photographer says she is blessed that her photography journey, and that of other female photographers in Oman, has been supported. The Photographic Society in Oman organizes an annual exhibition to celebrate the work of female photographers in Oman. Sayyida Meyyan has participated twice, and her work has been selected as the best one on display in 2016. She admires the works of fellow Omani photographers including the late Marwa Al Tamimi, Abdulrahman Al Hinai and Hind Al Hajri.
But while female photographers in Oman are supported, women in the arts around the world are still underrepresented with many advocating to increase the representation of female artists in galleries and museums. In a stubbornly male-dominated field worldwide, a study by Artnet, an art market information company, have found that only 11 per cent of arts acquired by America’s top museums were those by women.
Given that, Sayyida Meyyan believes that it is essential to exhibit more work by female photographers, especially those from the Arab Gulf States. “Women possess a strong sense of spirituality, connection with nature and others. They understand the importance of creativity and imagination. Females have been chosen by God himself to bear the miracle of life… so if they have the ability to bring new life into this world, then they also have the ability to exhibit marvellous works of art that the world needs to see,” she advocates.
One way to empower more female photographers in the Arab Gulf States is through a joined collaborative effort by different institutions across these countries, suggests Sayyida Meyyan, to ensure that there is an equal representation of female photographers to males across different exhibitions. “They could set a standard quota in the Gulf region for which there has to be an equal number of female photographers to males. This will encourage more females to step up and exhibit their work and set a just and balanced standard for all,” she tells me. She also adds that the solutions are simple, and that it is just a matter of implementing them and spreading more awareness about the importance of having more females contributing to the arts.
This is also where the role of education institutions, and their encouragement to foster creativity at a young age for the future generations, is vital. Sayyida Meyyan believes that different forms of arts should be taught at schools and be given equal importance to the sciences, as this would help enhance creativity, problem-solving skills and will equip students with the right skills and mindset to be innovative.
In a world where many things are bound to surrender to change, Sayyida Meyyan’s fascination with nature is one that remains constant. Her dream photography locations to explore include the black sand beaches of Iceland, and the white sand beaches of Grace Bay, in Turks and Caicos.
As for the visitors who would be exploring her work in her first digital art gallery, Sayyida Meyyan hopes that “that these works inspire you and give you hope to look for beauty in everything you see, do and hear.”
You can visit H.H. Sayyida Meyyan’s Reflections Gallery by visiting www.khaleejiarmuseum.com .
Manar Alhinai is the co-founder and storyteller-in-chief of Sekka.
The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.