A Portrait of Wild Oman

I had long dreamed of filling my days with the things that bring my soul to life: wildlife, art and travel. Following a bout of Lyme’s disease three years ago, I decided that the time had come to blend these three passions in a way that support the things I love so dearly.

So off I travelled in the name of conservation; putting charcoal to paper to capture nature’s most delicate creatures in places that constantly leave me galvanised.

When I was asked to visit Oman and create artworks to support the Environment Society of Oman, My mind instantly and excitedly raced with a kaleidoscope of imagery depicting the people, landscape and wildlife I believed were set to greet me.

And I wasn’t to be disappointed. From the moment I set down in the kind and remarkable nation, I found that something different was waiting for me at every turn. It was an artist’s dream; where inspiration followed you constantly and morphed into many forms. Each one even more distinct than the next.

Oman’s wildlife is celebrated yet endangered – and I was determined to honour it. My exploration took me to Jabal Samhan Nature Reserve and the home of the Arabian tahr, wolves, hyenas and the Nubian ibex.

I instantly became immersed in the landscape. As I travelled over the vast jabals and through the deep wadis, I continually kept watch for signs of life. Above all, I longed to catch a glimpse of the Arabian leopard – a cunning yet shy prowler of Dhofar’s mountain ranges. My hands always at the ready to seize my camera and goosebumps rousing my skin when I thought I saw one’s slender body shifting across the horizon. 

Next, we made our way to a steaming and rancid dump outside of Salalah. While not the most glamorous of locations, the area attracts an aerie of endangered steppe eagles. These incredible aviators – with wingspans of over 200 cm – were being tagged and tracked by researcher Mike McGrady and his team. To be able to get so close to them and to look into their focussed eyes – helped me study more than just their form. I suspected a warm nature was hidden beneath the angular, piercing aesthetics – and one we must protect fiercely.

I didn’t get long enough with the eagles; and I’m surprised to say that it was hard to leave the dump. But I was urged onto Rakhyut – a sleepy fishing village, where beautiful white cliffs sharply crash into deep-blue water.

The scenery was simply spectacular. However, out at sea, I could sense there was more to be discovered. There are many tales of encounters with dolphins, nesting sea turtles and the unique, non-migratory Arabian Sea humpback whales.

One of the most cherished parts of what I do is learning local traditions of making natural dye. I was introduced to a wonderful Jabali woman who used indigo dye to make frankincense incense pots. The dye is also used to colour the mask she is wearing – something all Bedouin women do. The mask didn’t stop us from communicating and I eagerly soaked up all the knowledge she had to offer. Considering the obvious limitations, we connected with such ease; sharing stories and articulating our experiences as both people and women.

As I left, she passed me a brick of indigo that was delicately wrapped for my travels. We shared warm wishes and I wandered away with early visions of my artwork streaked with this beautiful colour – another addition to the wondrous list of inspirations and life-long memories I had taken from Oman.

 

[footnote to article]

The Omani Wildlife exhibition will be held at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture’s Sayyid Faisal Bin Ali’s Museum adjoining the Natural History Museum in Muscat during the first two weeks of November. A percentage of proceeds will be going to the Environment Society of Oman.

Article written by Violet Astor for Steppes Travel Magazine