Arts & Culture

Israa Al Balushi and Dominika Jezewska’s work explores the fragility of reality

The augmented reality installation tackles the question of what could be found beyond the realms of physical boundaries.


By Sekka

Omani photographer and artist Israa Al Balushi. Image: Courtesy of Israa Al Balushi.

The pandemic has put a halt on many of the art and culture events and experiences for more than a year now. Many artists and art institutions have thus resorted to digital spaces to create online and virtual events. Virtual art residencies have also helped connect artists together to bring beauty to seemingly grey times.

Living in a world fighting a pandemic has resulted in many of us questioning our reality, a reality where for many of us exist on the digital sphere, where we connect with our family and friends, while we maintain a safe distance. 

Omani artist Israa Al Balushi and Polish artist’s Dominika Jezewska’s latest augmented reality installation, Anatomy of Perception, explores the fragility of our reality, and in a physical art experience deprived world, provides us with an opportunity to explore art from the comfort of our devices.

The two artists complement each other’s skills very well in this installation, that is part of Exit 11 & Postscript Magazine’s virtual residency artists program. Israa brings her background in conceptual photography, where she often explores elements of Omani culture and identity. Dominika’s background in 3D visualization, and her interest in subjective and alternate realities.

The installation, developed by the two artists using various software including Tilt Brush by Google, Gravity Sketch, Adobe Dimension and Adobe Aero, resulted in an augmented reality installation that has many layers, dimensions and colors, and one in which the viewer has the freedom to walk closer to each distinct element and see all these details up close.

With a swirly, abstract structure that resembles the strokes of brushes, the installation has three main components: the center, which is the most complex visually and has the most colors, the inner circle, where the colors are intense and have more intricate elements, and finally, the outer circle, which has more delicate colors and the least complex elements. 

All these layers are interlaced, and the palettes chosen for each one is made of translucent color gradients; different shades of pinks, purples and blues that emphasize the concept of fluidity and the delicate idea of what a dream in the real world would look and feel like.

The great thing about this particular installation, is that viewers have the opportunity to explore it from their phones whether on the Adobe Areo platform, and on Instagram as a filter, from wherever they are in the world. The Instagram filter, can be added as a layer on top of any photo taken, thus allowing the user to embed the installation on any of their photos and share it with their followers on their page.

We speak with Israaa about the inspiration behind the installation, conceptual photography and the challenges faced by conceptual photographers in Oman and the region, like her.

The Anatomy of Perception by Israa Al Balushi and Dominika Jezewska. Images: Courtesy of Israa Al Balushi.

Tell us more about the installation, The Anatomy of Perception.

Israaa Al Balushi: The photos were an opportunity to showcase the installation in a creative, open space. The purpose was to present the installation’s true scale; highlighting all its elements, layers, gradients and intricate details, thus bringing a perspective that helped give the viewers a chance to glance at the overall scene and get a sense of proportion.

The installation explores the fragility of reality by creating a paradox of having a physical experience via a non-physical entity. It tackles the question of what could be found beyond the realms of physical boundaries, and its overall purpose is to urge you to be present in the space, even though the installation is not physically there.”

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How did the collaboration between you and Dominika Jezewska come to be? And why did you choose to collaborate with her?

Israaa Al Balushi: We were paired together by the program’s moderator and met first via email, then officially during the first online group session, where we introduced ourselves and met the other artists that were also paired up and selected for the program.

The pairing process was relatively fast; we were expected to pitch an idea together as a team and take it from there. So, before the online group session we brainstormed a few ideas where we really connected with the concept of dreams and alternate realities.

It was literally a collaboration across continents, and it intrigued both of us to follow through and see how it all comes together. 

The fact is ‘cross-cultural’ means recognizing differences and contrasts, but what we discovered was when it came to the both of us working with each other, we kept discovering how our paths crossed and where our similarities were; we come from very different backgrounds, so it was exciting to see how our project evolved so seamlessly. We drew from our convictions of what reality really meant for us which helped us build and develop the overall concept of the project.


Polish artist Dominika Jezewska. Image: Courtesy of Israa Al Balushi.

A lot of your work is conceptual, do you think that conceptual photographers face challenges in Oman, and the wider Arab Gulf region? 

Israaa Al Balushi: I think for a lot of aspiring photographers around the region, we often fall victim to the literal sense of conceptual photography. The challenge here is to find the right balance that resonates with you as an individual and build on it. Conceptual photography could be as hard or as simple as you want it to be. More often than not, all you need to do is take a step back and remember that your work doesn’t have to be clear-cut; the subtler it is (in meaning), the more you’ll find viewers drawn to it.

Also, there’s a misconception that if you were a visual artist, your work needs to be bluntly relatable but that’s never the case. I believe that when you set a narrative that rings true to you, people genuinely appreciate it. There is a very fine line between telling people what to feel, and evoking that feeling naturally; which is what everyone’s looking for: a sense of understanding, and being understood without saying too much. 

My intention – and I believe many of the region’s conceptual photographers’ intentions as well – is for viewers to soak up my work, and still leave them with enough space for their own interpretations.

The Anatomy of Perception by Israa Al Balushi and Dominika Jezewska. Video: Courtesy of Israa Al Balushi.

What are some themes you wish to explore in your work?

Israaa Al Balushi: A lot of my work is based on simple compositions, though in contrast, they often address complex ideas. In essence, I believe that conceptualism requires method and discipline, and that’s where writing comes in for me. It’s where I reflect on ideologies and representation first, before grabbing a camera.

An approach I stand by is always asking the question, “When was the last time you stopped and looked around?,” and that’s exactly what I base my photography on. I always make it a point to say that I’m still experimenting, exploring and discovering, so it’s never really about any curiosity towards certain themes, but more about what carries weight and feelings for me at the moment. In terms of topics, there are things like history, culture and spirituality that I’d like to eventually make sense of through photography because they’re deeply rooted personal references to me.

Locations you would recommend to other fellow photographers to explore in Oman…

Israaa Al Balushi: The locations below are places I’ve been to almost regularly that I still find myself mesmerized by what I find every time:

Matrah: explore what’s beyond just the corniche and old souq. There is so much to see if you look close enough. 

The road leading to Bandar Khayran: there’s so much to explore along it; so many mountain views and shores to stop at.

Al Khuwair: is one of the oldest towns in Muscat. If you’re interested in modern architecture, you can find the most beautiful buildings along its streets.

There are many more places that you could find beauty in. I hope you take the time, and allow yourself a moment to rediscover your surroundings. I’m always drawn to finding patterns and similarities within one location or across different places I’ve been to, and so can you. 

To find out more about Israa Al Balushi, visit her page on Instagram.

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