Although she is only 26 years old, Sayyida Nada Al Said has some serious responsibility on her young shoulders, heading the unit of external relations at the National Museum, which was established by Royal Decree and opened last week. Despite this, Sayyida Nada, the youngest of four daughters, is calm and polite when we meet.
When she was little, Sayyida Nada dreamed of becoming a vet, but as she got older, an interest in art took over. “I studied interdisciplinary design and my path has always led me to art and design,” she tells me. “I wanted to have a job that had three main areas – no structured daily routine, creativity and to keep me intrigued and learning something new every day. I never thought of working for a museum, but it’s actually the perfect match.”
Her job with the museum came about by chance, as she reveals she wasn’t even aware of the venture to begin with. “Although I grew up visiting museums and galleries, I didn’t know about the National Museum project until someone mentioned it to me. Nothing was advertised about it, [but] I applied for a job through the Ministry of Heritage and Culture and got it.”
Sayyida Nada joined the team in March last year and after starting with mock-ups to determine how and where artefacts would be placed (she’s also done infographics, illustrations, loan transportation and insurance), she moved into curating for a while, working on a showcase about Omani women.
Although Sayyida Nada enjoyed the task, she admits it was not without its difficulties. “We were almost about to cancel that showcase,” she reveals. “I was looking at very historical people, which we only had stories about, but no solid artefacts, so I went on to the [modern day]. So the first ambassador of Oman, the first lady of Oman and I went to seek artefacts for these women. It developed from there.”
The museum is the collaborative result of Oman working with French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Russian consultants to curate the collections and will play an important role in preserving the cultural heritage of the Sultanate.
Some of the objects on display were donated to the museum by Omanis living in Oman and abroad, while they have also taken objects on loan from other countries, the first of which were three tombstones from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which were originally from Oman, but spent 80 years in the English capital.
The number of archaeological artefacts in the museum stands at about 6,000, the oldest of which is from the third millennium BC. The collections include antiques, craft industries, manuscripts and models of ships, castles and forts among others.
Sayyida Nada started her current role just two months ago. “It fits with my personality,” she says. “My father was a diplomat and so I have seen a lot all over the world [and] been exposed to different cultures and environments.
“My main responsibilities are to maintain and create new relationships with other international and regional institutions that could enhance the museum’s various areas, as well as promote Oman’s heritage and culture through the museum on an international scale.”
The museum will not be ready for the public until early to mid-2016. School visits and interactive sessions with poets, storytellers and musicians are all in the pipeline for the future and Sayyida Nada says that a lot will change based on the feedback of visitors.
Apart from her everyday job, Sayyida Nada enjoys horse riding and playing the guitar and flute.
“I lived in Oman for a short time at a very young age for five years, so this is the first time to experience it as an adult, and it’s very exciting,” she says. “Especially working with the museum and having the best in-depth knowledge of Oman at my fingertips. It reminds me every day of the importance of preserving Oman’s tangible and intangible heritage.
“I believe the museum is a great representative of Oman’s current status, in that it is moving forward into modern times whilst still staying rooted to its rich heritage.