CORRIDORS OF POWER.



“What do you see?”
“What do you see now?”
“And what else do you see?”


These questions, directed at no one in particular, punctuate J.M.G Le Clézio’s futurist novel The Giants.* No answer is expected from the reader, because what immediately follows are vivid descriptions of an expansive mall that operates as a centrally managed city state in terms of its architecture and its surfaces: shiny, translucent, shimmering smooth, glowing, reflective and attractive. One of the main characters, a young woman by the name of Tranquility, struggles to maintain her own path — both mentally and physically — in an environment located outside time in an enduring presence. Whatever history this site is set to accumulate, will involve the actions of the protagonists, as they come to realise in the course of the narrative.


Although published in 1973, when the oil boom had yet to take its full effect on the Arabian peninsula, The Giants presages the type of luxury architecture and consumer oriented society that would develop with unprecedented rapidity. Since the turn of the century, Oman has seen several grand development projects come to fruition, in a style that could be called minimalist neo-islamic modernism.


Eman Ali describes these buildings as having a presence that commands power and beauty, but lacking a fixed identity, for they are unlike anything else built before in her country. Confronted with these imposing non-places and what they signify about the future of Oman, Le Clézio’s insistent questions bear reiterating: What do you see now? And what else do you see?


Instead of trying to settle these questions, Eman Ali casts herself in the role of a young woman trying out different poses – curious, playful, empowered, contemplative – in response to these new, and highly theatrical public spaces of appearance. Her presence in the scene is slight, the female figure is deliberately kept small and sometimes even hard to detect. This use of proportions foregrounds the immersive architecture as the focal point of the work, and leaves space for other viewers and local residents to ask themselves: how to make this fit together, these bodies, these buildings and what they stand for? And how to shape the future? Seeing the need for a mutual realignment, which is always felt first rather than reasoned, is Eman Ali’s doing. Now, what do you see?


- Hester Keijser, 2017.


* Le Clézio, Les Géants, Gallimard, Paris, 1973


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