Oman’s first virtual reality artist wants people to explore art that exists beyond the physical realm.
Thirty-one year-old Haitham Al Busafi, who runs his own architecture and production companies in Qurum, discovered virtual reality as a medium of art almost by accident.
“At a very young age, I used to play with oil colours because, when I was young, my father would paint at home,” recalled Al Busafi, whose logo for the now-ubiquitous ‘Omani Product, Our First Choice’ campaign won first place in a competition organised to design the logo in 2008.
“I went to Sultan Qaboos University to study architecture, and while working, started a company with my brothers,” he added.
“We did a lot of branding, advertising and promotional work, but I felt that my understanding about architecture, on where it is globally, and my work in research and design were lacking; so I took all my savings and applied to study at the University of Applied Art in Austria.”
It was there that the seeds for his passion were first sown.
“I got to work with people, such as Hani Rashid and Greg Lynn, who started the idea of a paperless studio, where architecture is designed from scratch on computers and not on paper.
“I was exposed to one of the most progressive design schools in the world and began using a lot of software, which was used by film companies to create special effects to design buildings, and that allowed me to play with spaces in an unexpected and surprising way,” he said.
In his third year, he studied under the famed British architect Zaha Hadid, and wrote his thesis on how architects could design buildings in the virtual world.
“We looked at virtual reality as a new medium, where you can really feel the space around you, because it’s going to be 3D,” said Al Busafi.
“When it comes to playing with space, architects are the leaders, and my interest in architecture and graphic design made me wonder how I would combine these to create art and express myself.
“VR, as an artistic tool, is an unexplored territory,” he added.
“Creations here are not static, but dynamic. When you are in the virtual space, you are close to everything around there, so you see it, you experience it and you walk around it.”
Al Busafi’s experimentation with VR art saw him shortlisted for the Stal Gallery’s Best Young Artist Award for 2016. Although he narrowly missed out on the prize, he is now looking to hold Oman’s first-ever public VR art exhibition.
“My work with Stal served as a base into the world of VR art,” he remarked. “If you put on a headset and explore the art, it is very experiential. It’s an art form that is all around you."
Although he has been met with some skepticism, Al Busafi has learned much from his experiences that helps him to continue undeterred and explore this new art form further.
“If you have a clear idea of what you want to do, do not let other people let you down, because what you want to do is yours and yours only,” he advised.
“If you get a chance to do what you want to do, jump at that chance, because that will come back to reward you.”