Enaam Ahmed’s solo exhibition Faces of Memory at Gallery Sarah that opened on Wednesday is a showcase of Omani customs and traditions put together in a collection of artworks rendered in hues of nostalgia.
With strokes of fluorescent colours – flashy pinks, shocking orange, striking blues, fiery reds – depicting what the artist describes as once everyday settings and situations in every Omani home, the subject and her art style make for a curious combination.
Enaam’s acrylic on canvas artworks with streaks of charcoal for effect are set in pastel backgrounds. While she likens her art to expressionism, the exhibition – ending April 7 – includes 24 pieces mostly in the style of portraiture.
As its name suggests, it was nostalgia that prompted the exhibition. “I miss those days of my childhood; the simple pleasures of doing everyday things with my mother at home. Family gatherings. Attending weddings. The banter and celebrations during zafat al henna, bride’s jalo…,” Enaam says of the memories that triggered her second solo exhibition.
“Those quaint customs and practices have disappeared. When my 14 year old daughter sees old family photographs and my art, she’s left spellbound. Children of this generation don’t get to see these anymore.” In that sense, Enaam hopes she is able to showcase customs and preserve traditions for the next generation.
Unlike most artists who would rather not pick a favourite, Enaam has a one – titled Jalwa – that depicts a custom typical of Lawati culture performed a day before a bride’s henna. The piece stands out for its simplicity of form.
Enaam also depicts emotions with her simple lines and bold colours. In a piece titled Hando, a woman carrying a pot of water on her head has an almost haunting look in her eyes. “It was a hard life. Women toiled hard, walking miles on end to fetch water,” she said.
A graduate in interior design who works in the Diwan of Royal Court’s Institute for Capability Development, Enaam’s debut solo exhibition in 2010 was inspired by alphabets used by ancient civilisations of the region – Assyrian, Ugarit, Aramaic, Byblos, Palmyrenean and Aad. “An artist must evolve and that is why I have an expressionist approach now,” she said of the dramatic change in the style of her work.
In a reflection of the art scene in Oman, Enaam said change comes with awareness. “We need more art awareness and art programmes. Art collectors still prefer realism. There are few takers for abstract art.”
Though she has participated in several joint shows in the region and beyond, about the long break between her first and the latest solo show, she said she’s never in a rush. “It took me 25 years to hold my first exhibition. I take one step at a time.” It took her ten months to put together Faces of Memory – to not just find the inspiration but also the right frame of mind and settings to paint. The light of the morning sun helps Enaam find the right colours for her palette.
Her colours have got the attention of others in Oman’s art community, too. Anwar Sonya, much respected for his pioneering role in Omani art, said, “Enaam’s art is rich in colour and form, and more significantly, she is making an effort to preserve our culture. Her work is in the right direction.” Words that must mean much to Enaam considering Sonya is among her inspirations.