Blurring boundaries

Abdulaziz al Maqbali and Geraldine Garcon at Bait al Baranda

A joint exhibition by a French artist and an Omani calligraphist opens this evening at Bait al Baranda. Ink Explorers takes the concept of joint exhibitions to a level not commonly seen. While the show includes artworks in two distinct styles done individually by artist Geraldine Garcon and calligraphist Abdulaziz al Maqbali, there are ten collaborative pieces with creative inputs from both on the same canvas.

In theory, the collaborative process for the show was simple – either of the two created a piece first and handed it over to the other for his/her complementary input. When Geraldine started the artwork, Maqbali completed the piece with calligraphic words – a quote or famous saying – to complement it based on her artwork. If Maqbali started the piece, he gave Geraldine a gist of the meaning of the words in his calligraphy and she inked an image to go with it.

The collaborative pieces include one on a single canvas which Geraldine was inspired to create from a scene she witnessed in Seeb of a man seated in a pensive posture. Maqbali completed the piece with calligraphic words something to the effect that “look deep and you’ll understand the meaning of life,” he said through an interpreter. There are nine other exhibits of Geraldine’s art and Maqbali’s calligraphy framed into a single artwork.

While simple in theory, this creative process was easier said than done owning to a language barrier. But in the first place, no creative process is simple enough to put in words. And a punishing deadline didn’t make things any easier. Having first discussed the concept with Christian Adam de Villiers, director of Centre Franco-Omanais, in November 2018, Maqbali studied Geraldine’s art for the next two months and met her for the first time last month. “I thought we’d get 35 days, but in reality, we got only three weeks,” Geraldine informed.

According to Malik al Hinai, director of Bait al Baranda, the exhibition is the first of its kind in Oman. “We are privileged to engage artists – and two countries – to collaborate on the same canvas, something that has never been done before in the sultanate,” he said. Ink Explorers runs till February 28.

Self-trained, Maqbali was inspired to take up calligraphy by his father Hilal Mubarak. Maqbali Sr is debatably Oman’s first known calligraphist who engaged in his art on cars and steel plates. Averse to the limelight, by his own account, Maqbali’s style is distinct for his skill in forming shapes with his calligraphic letters. The wordings in his art are mostly on Oman and His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said’s inspirational quotes. 

Much in demand for commissioned works – including a piece in Muscat International Airport and the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, Maqbali, 35, has resisted temptation to hold his debut solo exhibition. “It’ll be a big bang,” he says with conviction. He did, however, represent Oman in a joint exhibition of calligraphists from the GCC states in October 2018. “Calligraphy is not a job, or a way to earn a living. It is my life,” he says.

Geraldine feels as intensely, if not more, about her art. A specialist in engraving and printing, street life is the common subject in her art. Based in Beziers, in the south of France, she finds inspiration in the small details of life. Asked about her visit to Oman – her first Middle Eastern experience – she said, “Initially, I was afraid. Unless you visit yourself, you only have media reports to base your impression of any place. But Oman turned out to be the opposite of what I thought it would be. And it is growing too fast.”

An artist who lives without a phone and a watch – “That is freedom” – she found the desert and sand in everything here. “And the light is blinding. So people have to try and find shade in this bright light,” she said in a poetic way you’d expect poets and artists to describe things.

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