The thing with a few legends is that they show no outward signs of being legendary. They seem to be completely untouched by or unaware of their greatness that wraps itself around them like some kind of an invisible mantle. Metaphorically speaking, you might say such people are like mountains, unmoved by the swirl of mist, clouds or snow around their peaks. But all this has little impact on their simple vision of the world.
One such legend is Omani artist Anwar Sonya. He was recently feted and honoured at an event at the Bait Al Zubair, to mark the launch of a book about him and his art as the man at the vanguard of the pioneering art movement in Oman. He has also been recognised globally for his stupendous contribution to the content, form, identity and character of Omani art.
The book launch ceremony was followed by an exhibition showcasing the works of leading contemporary Omani artists together with a book signing ceremony where buyers could get copies of the newly launched book autographed by Anwar Sonya and Iraqi writer Dr. Marwan.
A glimpse of his humility and unassuming nature comes through when you ask him to say something about the book.
“What can I say about myself?” Then with a merry twinkle in his eyes he continues: “Actually you should ask the author of the book why he chose to write it. But if you ask me, I really wouldn’t know what to say.” Now that is truly the mark of a great man.
When you turn to the Iraqi gentleman Dr. Marwan, who has written the book as a tribute to Anwar, he shrugs and throws his hands up in the air and remarks: “I’m at a loss for words when I’m in the presence of someone like him; someone more than an icon or a colossus. If you remove him from the landscape of more than half a century of Omani art, there is practically nothing left; just barren emptiness.”
So what does his book talk about. “My book is a compilation of his works. It is like a mirror that reflects in great depth and detail the social milieu of Oman and how it has evolved over time.”
“Anwar’s paintings are like sparkling cameos that touch upon different aspects of rural life, including social and cultural activities of the people. Often they also show the effect of development on the simple lives of the people.
“In that sense, Anwar is like a historian, a true chronicler of the times.”
A runaway in a strange country at 15
But what about his early years and the struggles involved? With a gentle smile Anwar recalls: “Those were very, very tough times indeed. My parents were dead-set against my idea of becoming an artist.”
“I started painting and drawing from the age of eight. And I was very clear in my head that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But my parents looked upon it as brash, childish pipe dreams. I was left with no choice but to leave home.”
At 15, Anwar ran away from home in Bahrain and came to Oman, seeking a new life, and identity, spurred on by his dreams and hopes of carving his own destiny.
“Naturally, I had to struggle a lot. I did all kinds of odd jobs here and there to survive. Finally, I got a job with the Ministry of Education. They saw the potential inside me as an artist and sent me to England to receive proper training in art. After that there has been no looking back.”
Coming back to the present, Anwar talks about a digital auction of his latest painting in a very matter-of-fact manner. Launched a month ago as a first-time initiative by Mariam Al Zadjali, Director and Chairperson of the Omani Society of Fine Arts (OSFA), the digital auction has drawn a keen response from art lovers globally, particularly from the Gulf and Middle East region
Anwar says the bidding, which has already crossed 1000 OMR, will close very soon. “Money is not the main issue. The important thing is this kind of digital auction will definitely have a snowball effect and give a global face to Omani art.”