Oman Daily Observer
Sunday, 19 November 2006
A Calendar with Omani Miniatures
by Viju James
The first month in the 2007 Limited Edition calendar designed by Stephanie Borg begins with the colourful picture of Ameera in traditional Omani attire gracing the month of January. There’s Kareema for February and a detail from Mahfooda’s Family for the month of March. Every month has an Omani miniature ending with a detail from the miniature titled Joyful Gathering for the closing month of 2007.
“I had the calendar idea for a long time but never got down to doing it till now,” says the artist Stephanie Borg. “I wanted to come up with a new idea – an idea that was small, easy to execute, appealing and of value to the user. This calendar can be hung on the kitchen wall, or above a desk, can be flipped easily and also be used to make a diary note.”
Stephanie Borg is a graphic designer by profession and a self-taught artist from Malta who has been living in Oman since the last five years. During her first months in Oman, she began to observe life around her. From her home in Athaiba she saved pictures of the men and women of Oman engaged in their daily preoccupations. A visit to Massirah gave her more insight and the artist in her conceived and nurtured the idea of a series of miniatures.
“I was absolutely excited by the colours of life in Oman,” she says. She observed that very often the colours that came together in an Omani woman’s attire were mismatched when perceived from a Westerner’s point of colour apperception. It was this ‘mismatch’ and vibrancy that encouraged her to start painting a series of Omani miniatures with titles such as ‘Mahfooda’s Family’, ‘Maryam and Majid’, ‘Warda’, ‘Ameera’, ‘Fatma’, ‘Leila’, ‘Muneera, Yousef and Abdulla’. The Omani male in his spotless white dishdasha provided the stark contrast to the colours that she used for her women characters.
As the note in the calendar explains “It is not by coincidence that the figures refrain from including features, leaving blank anonymous faces.” Stephanie’s men and women have no features. The focus is thus entirely on the colourful attire of the subjects.
The decision to avoid giving shape to the nose and the eyes is intentional – in her artistic view this was not essential for what she intended to convey – colour. “In these paintings it was important for me to convey how the people in Oman dress. Their identity was not so important for the series,” says the artist. In some cases she has let the name of the painting determine the choice of colour – ‘Warda’ (Arabic for Rose) who adorns the page for November 2007, for example is dressed in deep pink with diagonal stripes and a design on the dress and a black abaya.
The artist has worked with inks to do these miniature Omani portraits. “It was a long process as one had to paint several layers of inks to get the right effect.” She confesses that because of the medium she was unable to match colours used in different paintings. Stephanie says she visualises the colours first and then puts in the rest of the details.
The patterns on the clothing of her characters may not be the same as what appears on the imported squares of cloth used for the headdress or the upper shirt. This again has come from the artist’s imagination. All that is truly portrayed are the genuine mix of colours. Stephanie admits that she once hoped to be a textile designer and the miniature series gave her ample opportunity to live her hopes through the series.
In her selection of the names of the people, Stephanie says she did a little homework. She also consulted some Omani friends and finally chose names that were traditional and more representative of the people living in the interior than the capital area.
The cover of the calendar is a detail from the miniature ‘Joyful Gathering.’ This painting is in a private collection in Oman. The other originals of the miniatures have also been snapped up and are now in private collections in different parts of the world – in the UAE, in Australia and she thinks in New Zealand. Four pieces of her work are exhibited in her home country including one at the VIP Lounge at Malta International Airport. In her first solo exhibition at Malta in February 2004, Stephanie introduced the Omani women to audiences there. She says that the miniatures of the Omani women drew a lot of attention and was covered extensively in the Maltese press. The works titled ‘Kareema’ and ‘Muna’ were displayed at The Chedi for some time but have now also moved into private collections. In short, none of the miniatures are available as originals. “I want to do more limited edition prints and make them available from selected outlets” says the artist.
Stephanie has been showcasing some of her work in Muscat through the Bait Muzna and the Al Madina Gallleries and The Chedi. Her work exhibited at The Chedi caught the attention of Dimitris Tziotis of Cleverbank (the people behind the sound and light show at the 2004 Olympics and at some of Oman’s National Day programmes). The 35th National Day programme brochure presented to His Majesty and the VIP guests had an entire page with her miniatures. The calendar miniatures are part of her work from the years 2002 to 2004 in Oman. The artist has done more work on the same theme (‘Omani Ladies with Sun’ and ‘Omani Ladies with Moon’). These last two paintings have not been shown as yet in Oman. “I have now moved from ink to oils so am not sure what themes I will adopt with the new medium.”
Early this year, the American University of Science & Technology in Beirut invited Stephanie to conduct a campus workshop. “The Chairperson of the Art & Design Department saw my website and was intrigued by the fact that I use inks in my work which is not a common medium. The miniature ‘Omani Ladies with Sun’ was displayed in Beirut and the response was amazing.”
Recent work from the artist carries a floral theme and an abstraction of patterns all in vibrant colours. “I always think in colour; colour speaks to me first and then other things fall into place.”
“As a graphic designer, I work to order but as an artist I want to be free. I undertook one commission some time ago but was very nervous till it was delivered. It took me a year to finish this assignment.”
Will she do more Omani miniatures? “I won’t say no, never, but I will have to wait to be in a frame of mind to continue on the same theme.”
The artist’s work can be viewed at www.stephanieborg.com