Imagine my surprise when one of my Omani students told me that the walls of his entire village had been painted by a local street artist. “Really,” I exclaimed with glee! “I love street art!”

On the following weekend, I headed north from the port city of Sohar in a bid to capture on video whatever I found. What I discovered in a small fishing village just west of the slightly larger town of Liwa was much more than I had expected. The walls of the village were indeed covered in art—an assortment of male faces—from the walls immediately surrounding the local mosque all the way to the sea.

This is a region of the world where the only public art on display was usually found in oddly-shaped geometric forms placed in the center of roundabouts on highways.

In a conservative culture where religion, traditions and family dictate all aspects of an individual’s life, what kind of statement was this artist making and why was it that the local people of the village didn’t object?

Idols in our midst?

Images of people–especially famous figures writ large on entire walls—were often said to be ‘haram’ (taboo) in traditional Arabian Gulf cultures because of the fear that they might be seen as idols in a land where there is no God but Allah. However, that rule hadn’t seemed to matter in the case of the Sultan’s picture which hung in every business in the country.

The male figures portrayed on the walls of this small village were mostly drawn from American movies, especially the characters from the “Fast and Furious” films. FYI–Omani males LOVE driving FAST!.

Sadam Hussein, who was reviled in much of the Arab world before the American Government’s disastrous invasion of Iraq turned him into a cult hero for many Arabs, was prominently featured alongside Arabian Gulf heads of state.

Bob Marley—complete with a cannabis leaf—was present along with Che Guevara and the Joker from “Batman.” It was quite an eclectic group of characters, recognizing both international and regional cult heroes.

A land of contrasts and contradictions

Repeatedly in Oman I experienced contrasts and contradictions as Western pop culture was rapidly confronting more traditional ways and blending into a new cultural mix.

Such is the cycle of popular culture—especially American music and movies—as it has become disseminated to all corners of our planet. I swear if I have to listen to The Eagles song “Hotel California” blasting from yet another bar or restaurant in the developing world, I’m going to scream.

peace~ henry

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Posted by Henry Lewis

Unconventional artist, writer, videographer and teacher. Personal Quote: It isn't easy being me ;-)

13 Comments

  1. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave 😆

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Hi Ana,

      I checked out long ago, but for some unknown reason I’m still here! 😉 Thanks for reading and all the best to you!

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  2. Such fun to see all the street art..what talent!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Thanks Jane! I love the way the young, and often dispossessed, express their cultural views through street art in different parts of the world.

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  3. Great video. The Fast and Furious crew was fun to see in such an unexpected place. Bad guys and good guys, according to what you think, all there for everyone to see. Interesting.

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    1. Yes, the Fast and Furious cast were all high level cult heroes for young Omani males who love the adrenaline rush of speeding down the highway at supersonic speeds. The sad part of this is the very high rate of traffic deaths on the highways in that part of the world. It’s difficult to say to what extent movies such as Fast and Furious were to blame, but I certainly believe they had some degree of negative influence on young, impressionable Omanis. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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  4. Hi Henry,
    As usual, this was a well written essay on an interesting topic. What an unexpected thing to find in Oman! I remember once, when I was walking quietly down a street in Oman, dressed conservatively, an elderly Omani woman opined to her husband, in Arabic, that I was a bad woman, most probably because I wasn’t wearing a hat. I turned around and told her, in my very limited, pre-school Arabic, “I’m not a bad woman; I’m a good woman,” whereupon she nearly fainted. Moral of the story: Don’t assume that tourists can’t speak your native language.
    You said at the beginning of the piece, “why was it that the local people of the village didn’t object?” Did you ever find that out? Like you, I always thought that depicting human faces was haram.
    Cheers,
    Holly

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Hi Holly,

      Thanks for sharing your Oman story. It brought a smile. I always love unexpected situations such as the one you described. Hopefully the Omani women who slandered your virtue learned a valuable lesson.

      I purposely left the question in the post unanswered. soon after visiting the village for the first time, I did track down the artist through a cousin who was a student at the university where I was teaching. We met along with a group of his male relatives. I wanted to film a video interview of the artist explaining all the unanswered questions I had and we arranged for a time, but in the end it never happened and he never responded to any of my follow-up messages.

      My best guess is that it was okay for him as a male to practice his art publicly as long as he was only painting male figures. As you know, most small villages are inhabited by one extended family. Maybe the artist’s father was a prominent member of the community as well which gave him more authority, or maybe it was simply okay for him to paint the exterior walls since that was considered outside the house/home. I often noticed that a family’s sense of responsibility ended at the gate to a house or compound so that what was outside didn’t affect them whether it was litter scattered on the ground or in this case paint.

      I also think there was a great deal of naivety within Omani culture concerning Western cultural symbols and music. In an earlier post, I mentioned being shocked at hearing American rap music with lots of F-words being blasted in a large department store in the small northern Oman city of Sohar where I lived for 5 years. I was the only one in the store that seemed to care about the song’s lyrics. It’s likely the locals in this tiny village simply looked past these painted walls since the images didn’t carry any significant cultural meaning for them.

      What are your thoughts?

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  5. First of all, I am shocked to find out that there is street art in Oman…..Highly unexpected, for all the reasons you stated. You really did stumble upon an unusual find! Talented artist, for sure.

    When you mentioned the F-word in music in a large department store, it resurrected a memory in Sohar of when I heard off-the-scale foul language in a song that was being pumped over the sound system in Lulu’s (a large department store). It certainly raised my eyebrows! There is a word in Arabic that sounds exactly like the F-word, but it is just a harmlessly common part of speech. Nothing nasty. It is possible they didn’t pay attention to it, because they didn’t know what ANY of the words were saying. One way or another, it sure got my attention. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. It’s interesting that we were able to witness so much social change happening before our very eyes in a rapidly transforming country such as Oman. I always felt the urge to warn the Omanis I became close to about the negatives of assimilating too much from other cultures.

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  6. Thanks for your support and Happy Blogging.
    Web Design and Development Oman

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    1. You’re welcome! Thank you Ailsa!

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