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Razha Dancing, Oman

Razha Dancing, Sur

Razha Dancing, Sur

In November 2010 I was working in the Gulf on a number of painting projects, one of which took me to Sur, a town on the coast of Oman. Sur is famous for dhow building and has its own maritime museum. I had been before and I’ve produce a number of paintings of dhows. We decided to call in to the museum in the afternoon and were given an unexpected treat of Razha Dancing which was taking place outside the museum.

The Razha is an Omani dance where local men leap into the air carrying either a heavy sword or rifle. As they land, they must not falter. They will also throw their weapon into the air and catch it as it comes down displaying their strength and prowess. Singing, and what sounds like chanting, will also be accompanied by the beating of a drum to three distinct rhythms to which the participants match their movements.

At first glance, the whole proceedings can look quite unnerving. Indeed, the dance would originally been used as a way to announce war, victory, the mustering of troops or to mediate between warring factions, however the locals made us feel very welcome offering us Omani coffee, bottled water and dates whilst I produced sketchbook studies of the poetic movements. In the evening I returned where the dancing was continuing well into the night. I gathered more reference material which I hope to develop into some more finished paintings. The image above is actually a small Christmas card which I made for Susan that year. The back of the card contains the following appropriate inscription from Psalm 30 verses 11 & 12:

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,

To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

The verses are appropriate because just after that trip, on returning to the UK, Susan had to be rushed to hospital to have emergency surgery for a twisted bowel. She had complained of stomach pains on the trip which could have been the early signs of problems. We are so pleased that it didn’t flare up whilst we were in Sur!

 

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The Jewel of Muscat

The Jewel of Muscat

The Jewel of Muscat

The wreck of a 9th century dhow was discovered by local fishermen off the island of Belitung. In 1998 a German company was given permission to excavate the wreck where they discovered 60,000 pieces of rare Chinese porcelain.

From the remains, a reconstruction of the sailing ship was made using original materials, including coconut fibre to sew together the hull, with the aim to sail the ship along an old trade route from Oman to Singapore.

In May 2009 I saw the Jewel of Muscat being constructed at Qantab in Oman.I was amazed to see that it was sewn together, following the construction techniques used in the wrecked ship, rather than the using more traditional methods of pegs or nails. In October 2009 I saw it in Oman’s mariner where I did a couple of sketchbook watercolours of the dhow at rest in the water without it’s masts.

After sea trials, the Jewel of Muscat set sail in February 2010 for Singapore using ancient navigation methods. I was able to track its progress through the tweets of Oman Sail. I completed this watercolour depicting the vessel sailing past a well known rock formation near Muscat, Oman. Since then I have painted many more paintings of dhows which can be seen on my website.

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Sketchbook of Oman

Since my first visit to Oman in 2007 I have always taken my hand made sketchbooks to paint on location. Whenever I’ve shown these studies to various folk, they have always commented on the tactile beauty of these small watercolour paintings that are held together as a mini art collection. The plan for several years has been to find a method of reproducing them so that they are available for people to buy, but at the same time retaining the hand made quality of the original sketches so that they actually look like an original sketchbook.

In the spring of 2010 I had the first copies printed and bound to show potential buyers. The response was great and so we went into producing a limited edition run of 250 Sketchbook of Oman in November 2010. Her Majesty the Queen was visiting Oman in November to celebrate Oman’s 40th anniversary of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos and she was presented with 1/250 of the sketchbook. A lovely article was written in the Oman Observer by Maurice Gent about Her Majesty the Queen also being presented with one of my paintings too.

A portion of the proceeds of the sale of the sketchbooks is going to 40/40 which is a scholarship scheme for 40 Omanis, to undertake Undergraduate Degrees at Universities in Oman, ideally with those with links to British Universities was established.  These scholarships would target poorer Omanis who could not otherwise afford tuition fees.  A key partner in this would be the Ministry of Higher Education who would help identify suitable candidates for the scholarships.  The candidates have been selected and the scheme is now well underway although raising money to fund the students is an on-going project.  Purchasing “Sketchbook of Oman” is one great way to contribute to this scholarship.

I have some of the Sketch Books of Oman on display in my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland and you can also buy online at www.alanreed.com and through Al Manahil books in Oman.

Above are a few examples of some of the 40 images which make up the book, 27 of which have been painted on location, the other 13 are studio paintings like the Grand Mosque at Night which were inspired by the location studies.

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