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  • Dec 02, 2021

Oman to Debut at the 59th Venice Biennale

Portraits of (clockwise from top left) BUDOOR AL-RIYAMI, ANWAR SONYA, RAIYA AL-RAWAHI, AISHA STOBY, RADHIKA KHIMJI, and HASSAN MEER. All images courtesy the National Pavilion of the Sultanate of Oman.

For the first time in history, the upcoming Venice Biennale will include an Oman pavilion. Curated by Aisha Stoby, the presentation will spotlight five practitioners—painter Anwar Sonya, multimedia artists Hassan Meer, Radhika Khimji, and Budoor Al-Riyami, and Riya Al-Rawahi.

Spanning three generations, the five selected artists each made significant contributions to the development of contemporary art in Oman. Sonya, who is also referred to as the “godfather” of modern and contemporary Omani art, creates works that incorporate Arabic calligraphy, bright colors, and bold strokes to chronicle lives and landscapes. As a co-founder and teacher at the Youth Studio, he influenced many young artists. Meer is known for his abstract art and for founding The Circle, a prominent experimental art collective and an innovative exhibition series for art of diverse media. Khimji’s drawings, collages, sculptures, and installations explore notions of identity and feminism. Al-Riyami is a new media innovator best known for her award-winning video The Peak of Burning (2008), which muses on violence and threats against peace. The pavilion will also include the final works of the late self-taught installation artist Al-Rawahi, who died of cancer in 2017.

The curator, London- and Oman-based Stoby, holds a PhD from The University of London, and has recently taught at the university’s School of Oriental and African Studies. In 2014, she curated exhibitions including “Fragments” at the Royal College of Art Pavilion in London, “Oman et La Mer” at the National Maritime Museum in Paris, and “Nuh Al Ethihad (Spirit of the Union)” at the New York Public Library.

Helmed by the Omani Crown Prince, Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitham Al-Said, and funded by Oman’s ministry of culture, the sultanate’s participation in Venice will be accompanied with cultural programs in Oman. These include lectures and internships, as well as a training program that encourages dialogues between youth and the participating artists. Selected trainees from the program will be able to work with the artists at the Oman Pavilion.

The 59th Venice Biennale is slated to run from April 23 to November 27, 2022.

Victoria Chan is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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