Oman’s array of rich heritage is there to be relished. Fatin al Zadjali explores one museum that makes the past real and revitalising.
It’s now October; summer is over and so is the torpor that can take us down in the intense heat.
In fact, as the weather cools down and Oman’s tourist season starts up, why not wile away an afternoon by meandering around one of the Sultanate’s many superlative museums?
We are spoilt for choice with some of the myriad splendid art treasures, artefacts and antiquities that our rich heritage can boast.
And near Muttrah Souq, on Muttrah High Street, you can discover one hidden gem: Ghalya’s Museum of Modern Art.
The museum is the creative brainchild of Her Highness Sayyida Dr Ghalya Bint Fahar Al Said, and opened in January 2011. It’s a dream project that explores Oman’s traditions with those of its evolution into a modern, forward-thinking nation.
It has three elements: the Old House, the Clothes Museum and the Modern Art Museum.
Many canvases by Omani artists are showcased and are available to buy, and there is also a gift shop.
The Old House aims to recreate what life was like in a Muscat home from the 1950s to the 1970s and consists of a bride’s room, a typical children’s room, a majlis and an impressive art gallery.
As you enter, works are showcased in a maze-like format but you can’t get lost. Welcoming staff will show you how to navigate the passage ways, and background information is available.
Each small room contains a wealth of artefacts that illuminate the lives of our forebears and make us ever-more appreciative of the luxuries of today!
In the kitchen, for instance, you can find utensils of yesteryear that will make you think twice before you bung something in the microwave.
On my visit, I came across a traditional Omani wedding room after opening the first door. The room radiates green and yellow colours, and gold and jewellery is tastefully aligned around the heritage pieces. There’s a Mabkhara (a green statue with incense burners underneath that carries the henna, flowers, and offerings to the bride). With classic Omani music in the background, it gives the sense of being at an actual wedding.
As you follow the maze, you can enter a classroom that portrays the initial learning of English and the latest forms of communication in the multicultural Sultanate of Oman.
Following the path, you can enter the old kitchen; a seamstress’s room that has her baby’s cot festooned with purple frills. Then, it’s through to an old study room that lacks any windows to protect its inhabitant from the cold.
Mellifluous background music wafts continually as you can learn and appreciate the array of Oman’s deep-rooted customs, such as perfumery, that are still practised today.
Artworks abound. The walls are resplendent in white (they are repainted every year) and are redecorated with the work of artists both from Oman and abroad.
It’s wonderful to see how artists have depicted the country’s distinctive attributes, from seaports and wooden throne doors while marking the stoic elegance of Omani women and men.
This isn’t a museum, it’s an experience. A smorgasbord of sensory, visual and auditory delights that encapsulate the Sultanate’s experience of simplicity and subsequent engagement with the modern world.
The museum’s curators are constantly updating and reviewing its contents, too. It is designed to change so that each visit is a rewarding and revitalising experience.
As an Omani, I’m proud of this place.
Ghalya’s Museum of Modern Art is a short tour but it’s detailed down to the last crevice, while entry is free. It is a true delight to take you back in time, enchanting both those who recall the way we were and those who would like to find out.