Coffee aesthetics: Untitled Works exhibition

Coffee tempts our taste buds, seduces us with its aromatic smell, and as an ongoing art exhibition showcases: it can also be used to heighten the aesthetic appeal of paintings.

The use of coffee as a medium for art is just one of the things that makes the paintings of Mariyam Omar unique. The other could just be the sheer ambiguity of her work, open to the interpretation of the person viewing it.

“I don’t like to title my paintings. It’s up to the viewer to find meaning in my paintings” says the 30 year-old with a charming smile. When you first ask her the question of what her paintings depict, she throws the question right back at you. She seems fascinated with the interpretation others give to her creation.

Hence the name “Untitled works”, which seems aptly suited for Omar’s first solo exhibition. The 24 paintings on display showcase her signature style, brush strokes of deep colours punctuated by snow-white figures and limbs of men and women.

The exhibition also signals a break from convention as the artwork on display comes with a price tag, giving the possibility for visitors to walk away with a painting.

An outsiders view

“It was during school that I first used coffee in my painting,” says Omar, explaining that this was where she learnt the use of different mediums. Nowadays she uses acrylic, gouache, ink and coffee for her creations.

The brush strokes in her paintings, almost seems like a reflection of the turmoil within us. The swirls, twirls and strokes of the brush could be of anger, frustration or calm and tranquillity, a mirror of our own emotions at a given time.

“I have tried to explore the void that exists in each of us,” says Omar adding that even if one tries to find out things, one is always limited to gaining an outsider’s perspective.

Maybe that explains why the figures in her paintings are so mysterious; rarely do we get to see their faces. In one, a man is almost in the process of walking out of the painting. Leaving behind the myriad background of swathes of blood red and dark colour with the muted green beneath, the only visible part of him is his torso, neck and arm.

It is the unpainted white of the canvas that gives birth to the figures and limbs in her painting. The colours that swirl all around it, forms its outline, but as Omar puts it: “It depends on your perspective, the figures could be the ones that are coloured or not.”

One of the most striking pieces and one that already has the red tag, which marks the pieces that are sold, is a woman with her back to you. Her graceful lines denotes an uncanny feeling that at the same time as you are contemplating her, she is contemplating something in front just beyond your line of vision.

An artist in Maldives

Omar is a graphic artist by profession. “It’s not possible to gain a living in Maldives by being a full time artist” is her explanation.

As well as having taken part in collective exhibitions including ‘Beyond The Tourists Eye, Issue of Identity in Maldivian Art’ ,Omar has also done art residencies in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

In day-to-day life Omar finds it difficult to make the transition from graphic artist to painting. So she gets around it by trying to take off a month each year just to concentrate on painting. Most of the work she has produced for the exhibition was done in a month.

Along the way social upheavings have also spilled onto her canvas. Two paintings on display have titles ‘Lock and Oath 1&2’, a break from her traditions. “It’s my frustration at the haste with which Maldivian judges took the controversial lifetime oath behind locked doors,” explains Omar.

Omar’s creations have moved visitors, that some have already bought her paintings. Jennifer Latheef has already snapped up one of Omar’s paintings. A first time buyer of Maldivian art piece; Latheef says the paintings spoke to her of injustice.

“Her paintings with fragmented body parts, spoke of the mind, body and soul in a fragmented world or a world that fragments people,” Latheef says.

The dozens of visitors streaming in daily would each walk away with their own interpretation. And their lies the appeal of Omar’s paintings. Her paintings move you by their undisputable visual beauty, but also seem to ask questions of you and the world around you.

“Untitled works” will be on display until the 30th of March 2011 at National Art Gallery, each working day from 9 am to 6 pm.