The Omani Songbook

Stal GalleryPress, Times of Oman

by: Patricia Groves
Source: Times of Oman

When Stal Gallery puts on an exhibition, you just know that it is not going to be ordinary. So I wondered what Verena Kyselka, Stal’s new international Artist-in-Residence whose research is supported by the Goethe Institute in the Gulf Region, would have to say in her exhibition titled The Omani Songbook. After all, she is an avant-garde artist with roots in the 1980s underground art scene in East Germany, who studied Free Art and Video design at Germany’s famous Bauhaus University, and at Geneva’s prestigious Ècole Supérieur des Beaux Arts, and whose recent projects span Albania, Armenia, China, Taiwan, Bangladesh, and Australia.

I had not imagined that this artist would make a video just with songs, sand, water, fire, frankincense, and a simple oud soundtrack, which would be so moving that it would re-ignite my love for Oman and take me back to the core of its culture.

A young man cries, “My heart is overfull of love…it fills an empty wadi and flows with it”. Two girls slowly walking by the sea sing, “O Beauty, O Beauty” in an ode to the virtues of Oman. Their voices are as beautiful as the land of which they sing.

By a crackling campfire, a lady sings a ballad. An Enchanter falls in love with a Jinn, meets Destiny in the Desert, and “in the smoke of incense and pride, the Jinn becomes a Bedouin…the longing of her soul heals her wounds. But the love of the Enchanter is shrouded.”

With live sequences and the superimposition of cultural icons – geometric patterns, the crenellated walls of a fort, stars at night, a coffee jug pouring water into the sea, Verena evokes the essence of Oman in an unpretentious way that is surprisingly powerful.

On the internet I saw what Verona did with the plain old mediaeval towers in her hometown of Erfurt in Germany. Each night she bathed the ancient towers in a wash of projected colours and images, making them into magical twenty-first century artworks to delight and invigorate the town. A visit to Taiwan inspired Verena to create a modern Atlantis-like animated tale of “Formosa”, an island that suddenly sinks beneath the sea, while the women of Formosa become legendary, and other islands rise from the depths. It’s art and it is also an unspoken commentary on the Geopolitical situation in the South China Sea.

Verena Kyselka, who has been praised as “extremely active, multi-faceted and successful”, talked about her adventures in Oman in global perspective. She is “putting together a picture of the world today… and musing on what people are longing for”. She is seeking the inner meanings of life today in the human commonalities across cultures.

Verena finds elements almost evocative of the Thousand-and-One Nights Arabia in a family Bedouin camp, in their hand weavings and in the treasury of traditional songs that she feels will disappear. One of the Bedouin songs happens to illustrate Verena’s theme of universal longing. The longing is for simple things in the ordinary course of life. As she opens her wedding mandoos, the Bedouin bride is longing for a child; the child wants milk; the cow wants grass; the grass wants rain; the rain is in the hands of Allah.

Verena comments on her exhibition at Stal, a collage of photos, cut-outs, drawings and animation, as “an invitation to read a virtual book”.If you missed this decidedly worthwhile exhibition, google Verena Kyselka