When it comes to art, the sky’s the limit, and one Damascus-born artist now working in Oman likes to adopt a rather down-to-earth approach to his work… quite literally. Alvin Thomas writes.
Art made from wheat. It’s a concept unheard of in the GCC –but Montajab Anis Mahfod is the only such artist in the Middle East and one of the few who has presented to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.
A consultant and civil engineer working in Oman, and an avid bookworm, the artist discovered wheat art just five years ago after reading about it.
Montajab says: “My heart lies in art. I feel that I’ve always had a connection with it in the way I admire it and how I try to analyse the meanings behind it.
“My evenings after work and weekends are taken up by wheat art.”
Undertaken only by a handful or artists worldwide, wheat art is time-consuming with very little margin for error. While one art piece can take up to two months to craft, obtaining the right colour of wheat can take up to three years (!)
Montajab says: “Wheat is known to be golden in colour but wheat art is a bit more complex: it requires shadows, shades, and the perfect cuts.
“The stalks are the portion that I use to create the works. Wheat itself has very unique properties such as flexibility, durability, and an ability to maintain its colour for extended periods of time.
“This wheat then has to be cut and rolled into flat sheets so that I can begin the process of creating the portraits.
“I found out that by setting wheat outside in the sun for anytime between one and three years you can turn the colour from any shade of brown to dark brown.
“I found that I could achieve different shades by boiling wheat with walnut, walnut leaves, Hormuz seeds (an Arabic plant), and Henna (a dye).
“Everything that is done on the wheat is natural – and by doing so, it will always maintain its colour and keep shining.”
To achieve this, he uses the best quality of wheat, which means travelling to Syria to handpick wheat from local farms and fly it back to the Sultanate.
He then starts off the crafting process.
“Wheat art is an almost three-dimensional form of art. But it all begins with me painting a sketch as an outline on a black paper. Then I move into slowly cutting parts of the wheat to match the correct shades of the portions, and sticking them on with glue,” he says.
“This is done piece-by-piece, and after each segment is done, I must take a small knife – which I call my best friend – and slowly cut into the wheat to attain the right orientation, shades, and shadows.
“Once the sticking process of one segment is done, it must be kept loaded for 24 hours so that the portion will stand the test of time.
“There’s also no room for error in wheat art. Because the colours are limited even the most minor of mistakes can be detected. So, if any error is made at any stage then I need to start the process for that segment from the beginning. It’s not like paint: you cannot cover it up with a base coat.”
Two months of crafted and sculpting later, Montajab can look back at his masterpiece. However, it won’t last long – as most of it will either be gifted or bought by his fans.
There are no Instagram or Twitter profiles to promote his art; it’s just word of mouth – and it has already spread beyond his home in Nizwa.
Today, Montajab’s art ranges from portraits of His Majesty to celebrities in the Arab world and even landscape. The most prominent common feature is the intricate addition of shadows and depth.
“Everything from the face to the small wrinkles of the face, and the muscles in the arms must be replicated, just like you would in a real painting. And that’s what gives this art its edge. It’s using a natural – and rather monocoloured plant such as wheat – to make the art come alive.”
Art organisations in Syria and Oman have already heralded Montajab as an expert in wheat art in the Middle East region.
And he has taken a special interest in portraying His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, crafting more than five portraits out of the “love and respect” he has found in Oman.
“The appreciation I have received from the people has been fantastic and morally uplifting.
“The satisfaction you receive when crafting a work of art is one that beats all else.”
You can contact Montajab for art enquiries at 9714-5013