Arts & Culture

New Surreal Art Experience Opens at Historic Omani Fort

"Ahlam El Asr" was born out of a collaboration between Sekka, Zawraq Collective and Teepee Oman.

By Sekka

The Foreign Minister of Oman His Excellency Sayyid Badr Albusaidi with Omani artist Majeda Alhinai at Ahlam El Asr. Image by Burair Alkishri for Sekka.

On Thursday, 17 March 2022, Oman’s latest art experience, Ahlam El Asr, officially opened in Muttrah and was visited by the Foreign Minister of Oman His Excellency Sayyid Badr Albusaidi ambassadors, dignitaries and creatives. The special art event is born out of a collaboration between Sekka, Zawraq Collective, a duo of creative Omani women who reimagine Muscat’s art scene as belonging to its youth and their explosive talents, and Teepee, an Omani pop-up glamping experience that creates one of a kind experiences that encourage cultural immersion, reconnecting with nature and ignite a sense of adventure. 

‘Earlier this year, we published a special print issue titled “The Creative Giants” dedicated entirely to Oman’s creative scene that we sold across the world, from London to New York,’ says Manar Alhinai, Sekka’s founder and storyteller-in-chief. ‘As part of our continued activation of the issue, which generated a lot of international interest in Oman’s blossoming art scene, we collaborated with the incredibly creative women behind Zawraq Collective and Teepee Oman to organise an art experience that features some of Oman’s most talented young artists in a special setting, where visitors will be able to see and discuss Omani art.’ 

After months of collaborative planning and organising between the three, Ahlam El Asr was born. Set in the historic Muttrah Fort, which marks the first time an art event has been hosted in the fort in its over 400 year history, ‘Ahlam El Asr is a nostalgic and surreal pop-up [where visitors will] walk through Muttrah Fort and explore a maze of illusive installations created by contemporary Omani artists,’ say Zaima Al-Adawi and Noor Al-Mahruqi, the founders of Zawraq Collective, and the event’s art curators. ‘We all yearn for a rose-tinted past that only exists in our imagination. In this space, you will travel through a utopia of nostalgia that intertwines cultures of the past and the present; [you will] wake up from reality and be here and now.’

An installation by Grid and Grain Studio Oman for Ahlam El Asr, held at Muttrah Fort. Image by Burair Alkishri for Sekka.

Ahlam El Asr is a commonly used [Arabic] term that refers to a kind of psychedelic daydream that is both strange and entertaining. It has a double entendre that could also mean “the dreams of the generation” which fits perfectly with this experience,’ they continue. ‘The inspiration behind the title came from an innate desire to create something for the youth, by the youth. It is exciting to be able to juxtapose the historical fort with the fantasies of young people.’ 

The same sentiment is shared by Hilal Al Busaidi, the chairman of Muttrah Fort Tourism LLC who is the main sponsor of the event and who is providing the venue for it, who says, ‘Muttrah Fort played a major part in country history defending the sovereignty of our nation. Today, it will play the role of inspiring our young generations through our history and unity. It will be a blend of history and culture.’ He adds, ‘the youth is the future, and it’s important for us as entities to give them the opportunities to showcase their creative minds and unlock hidden talents.’

Visitors to the art experience, which is open to the public on Friday 18 March 2022 and Saturday 19 March 2022 evenings , will see installations by Brash Collective, an art initiative spearheaded by 28-year-old Omani artist Majeda Alhinai, after they climb the 120 steps leading up to the fort. One of the installations titled Us, is a sculptural piece with mirror elements that explores identity, self-reflection and mindfulness. ‘Its human-like figures establish a sense of familiarity and upon turning the corner the viewer is left searching for more. The mirror introduces another dimension, a sense of “utopia” where another reality exists. It is a space of otherness that is simultaneously physical and mental. Viewers are led to gaze at themselves in the mirror and discover more about what lies beyond the image,’ says Majeda. ‘With these pieces we hope that the viewer is put in a space to explore “otherness” beyond the literal and physical. The motif of the mirror is symbolic to the threshold between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. By looking into the mirror, the viewer may feel a sense of self-discovery and infinite possibility. We would like the audience to engage with an inverted reality, a world of fantasy and delight, while spreading the message: “we can be whoever we want to be.”’

A guest standing by The Folding City by Safa Al Belushi in collaboration with Taher Majid, Rayan AlBalushi and Tara Atkinson. Image by Burair Alkishri for Sekka.

Visitors will also see The Folding City, a mixed media installation made by Omani artist Safa Al Belushi in collaboration with Taher Majid, Rayan Al Balushi and Tara Atkinson. ‘A multimedia installation that will take you through an abstract sensual trip to Muttrah, retracing and unfolding the layers of what makes this city magical. Walking through the folds, you will experience not only what this city offers, what we see, smell, taste, touch and hear but also the hidden gems: the abandoned houses and the untold stories,’ reads the artist statement. ‘Textile is used as a canvas, and each layer was created from materials that were collected and recycled from Muttrah.’

The setup made by Teepee Oman at Ahlam El Asr, held at the historic Muttrah Fort. Image by Burair Alkishri for Sekka.

In addition to the artworks, visitors will be able to enjoy slushies, softies and popcorn provided by the Muscat-based Hafsah, and open-tent outdoor seating set up by Teepee. The set up enables visitors to network and socialise with some of Oman’s creatives in an artistic setting. 

‘Teepee is providing seating arrangements in collaboration with the artists. Our intent was to compliment the artwork created by the artists and carefully curated by Zawraq. We took it as an opportunity to explore the full extent of our adaptive furniture and offering,’ describe Umayma Al Hinai and AlAmjaad AlMawaali, the founders of Teepee, who are passionate about creating experiences with creative juxtapositions through their work. They add, ‘At Teepee, we believe that collaboration enriches all parties involved and we seek those who have similar values and share our enthusiasm of turning, what seems like, crazy visions into reality. It’s why we were excited when Sekka approached us to be part of this event…The experience will play on the role of nostalgia, where tradition meets fantasy with an artistic twist.’

Maison Lux Interior Designs by Fatma Al Hinai is a strategic partner for the event. Image by Burair Alkishri for Sekka.

The Ahlam El Asr art experience is brought with the support of strategic partners Grid and Grain Studio (who also have an installation in the experience), Bin Haidar Darwish Designing and Printing and Maison Lux Interior Designs, who have high hopes for the event. ‘As a business in the creative industry it is our duty to participate in events such as these,’ expresses Ali Bin Haidar Darwish, the CEO of Bin Haidar Darwish Designing and Printing. Through its participation, the company hopes to ‘touch the lives of creatives and support the building of the creative industry in Oman further to ensure we reach international levels.’ Similarly, the founder of Maison Lux Interior Designs, Fatma Al Hinai, says, ‘The event is a very interesting one since it is held at a historical fort, and so art is exposed in a different way, full of beautiful juxtaposition. It’s a marriage of history and contemporary art and culture.’ She adds, ‘It’s a great opportunity for international visitors, people from different cultural backgrounds and Omanis alike, who have different interests, to explore history, culture and contemporary Omani art in one event. It’s also an opportunity for them to see how young creatives are presenting culture in new and innovative ways through their work.’

Ahlam El Asr is open from 4 pm to 10 pm daily until 19 March 2022. Due to unforeseen weather conditions, opening time on Saturday 19 March 2022 is 5 pm.