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An insight into the Islamic craft

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The IRCICA organised a craft fair here for the first time last year. The Muscat Festival organisers requested that new artists be chosen this year so that the visitors to the festival have more variety and are exposed to new crafts and cultures


By Sarah MacDonald


Muscat: The Muscat Festival’s International Congress on Innovation in Arts and Crafts showcases the work of 150 artists and craftsmen from 25 different countries. The task of choosing them is left primarily to one man — Nazieh Taleb Maarouf.


Maarouf is the director of the crafts development programme, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA), which plans the international craft market at Qurum Park.


“We are encouraging these kinds of handicrafts. We are promoting them and supporting the craftspeople so they are getting known and their work is known. We are happy to see the results,” says Maarouf, sitting at a booth filled with Turkish carpets at the Muscat Festival.


The IRCICA, based out of an old palace in Istanbul, Turkey, is involved in studying and preserving the Islamic culture and the cultures of Muslim people all over the world. The IRCICA has organised similar festivals all over the world, including in Morocco, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia.


“Each country has its own craft. Each country specialises in a different skill, but here we have a cultural village. You will see the local varieties in an international setting,” Maarouf says.


The IRCICA organised a craft fair here for the first time last year. The Muscat Festival organisers requested that he choose new artists this year so that the visitors to the festival would have more variety and be exposed to new crafts and cultures.


“Oman is trying to make this international, not just including Islamic art,” Maarouf explains. “Most of the artisans are new,” he added.


Though the IRCICA is a centre which aims at preserving and promoting Islamic arts and crafts, not all of the booths at the Muscat Festival are from countries with majority Muslim populations. For example, Spain, a country which had strong Islamic influence on it in the past but is now dominated by Catholicism, has a booth at the festival.


“We invited member countries of the IRCICA and observers. But some are from countries with Muslim minorities. The people from Ukraine are from the Crimean part, which has Muslim communities there also,” Maarouf explains.


The IRCICA approaches its member countries and invites artists to apply to be a part of the Muscat Festival craft fair. Once the organisation gets a response, it corresponds with the artists and craftspeople so it can see their work.


“Some of them are known to us, since we’re involved in the field, and others we meet for the first time. Then we decide who to include,” says Maarouf.


The ministries of culture in different countries also recommend certain artists and craftspeople whose work accurately represents each region.


“You can see the variety of work. For example, in Uzbekistan you can see excellent miniatures. In Dagestan (a region of Russia) you can see wooden work, excellent wooden work,” says Maarouf.


Because this is an international craft fair, there isn’t an Omani booth, but Maarouf says Omani craftspeople have been involved in fairs in other countries and other programs hosted by the IRCICA.


For Maarouf, coming to the Muscat Festival is also a personal pleasure, because he says he finds Oman beautiful. He says the landscape around Muscat, such as the drive to Shangri-La, is incredible.


“I like Oman! In all the regions of Islamic countries, I can say that Muscat is number one. I enjoy it!” he adds.


(Courtesy: Times of Oman)
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