Oman’s dwindling heritage of pottery

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Updated 26 June 2013
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Oman’s dwindling heritage of pottery

Oman has a rich tradition in pottery and Bahla occupies a place of pride in the region.
The art of pottery dates back to as early as 2500 BC. The invention of the potter’s wheel has tremendously influenced the development of our culture and civilization. So much so that ancient pottery today is considered to be an important relic in the studies of archaeology and social anthropology.
Yet unless the Omani government takes action, the pottery traditions and culture will fade into oblivion
The traditional pottery trade is dwindling though a few pottery units have remained in Bahla. At one time, scores of families in Bahla were trying to perpetuate the craft, but today there are only a few left. The souq has only limited items.
On my recent visit to Bahla I sneaked into a pottery unit in the heart of the town. Outside, a slab of clay, trampled upon by men hours before, was tanning in the sun. At another place the soil was left to soak in shallow water-filled pits secured by nets. These ensure that dried leaves and other dirt would not get mixed in with the clay.
Zaid Abdulla Hamdan Al-Adawi, the proprietor of the pottery unit, was seen stacking up the earthenware in the courtyard of his shed. When I queried him about the clay, he said that the brown clay is extracted from the wadi (riverbed) in Bahla while the red clay comes from mountains in the Bahla Wilayat. He did not seem enthusiastic when he observed: “Traditional pottery is a dying art now. Until about eight years ago, pottery was still a thriving trade. People now opt for plastic containers over our earthenware. A small section still prefers our items and for them we survive.” Zaid works from his electrically operated pottery wheel amid the accouterments of the trade. From the finished items I could make out that pottery is not confined to utility and economic purposes alone. It has developed into an aesthetic and quintessential art form.
Zaid’s shed is a clutter of water pitchers, pots, vases, frames, storage urns and decorative objects. Though the methods for producing potteries have changed, especially kilns (ovens) and firing techniques, Zaid still practices pottery the traditional way, completely unaffected by the changing times and trends. Except that he uses the electric wheel over the kick wheel.
Watching the clay being transformed as Zaid’s hands seem to weave patterns in the air seeing shapes and sizes emerge, along with spouts and rims as the fingers mold and curve, makes for a fascinating sight. Within minutes the contours of a pot appear. Zaid uses the old way, yet he is aware of the needs of the tourists and art collectors. Therefore, he is attempting to innovate by incorporating new design and motifs on his earthenware.
The items do not come cheap these days. I bought a very small water pitcher with an interesting mechanism for OMR 2 (SR 19.50). In this magic jug, water can be filled from the bottom and poured out only through the beak. Amazingly, it does not spill out when in an upright position.
The pieces, which adorn the spaces of the shed, have aesthetic appeal and a smooth finish. A frame with a picture of a coffee pot, all in clay, speaks of the creativity of Zaid. But unless the Omani government comes to the rescue of the dying craft, people like Zaid will continue to be a victim of ‘survival of the fittest’.

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Interview with the director and stars of ‘The Lion King’

Twenty-five years later, director Jon Favreau has brought “The Lion King” to life again for a new generation. (Supplied)
Updated 18 July 2019
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Interview with the director and stars of ‘The Lion King’

  • Jon Favreau, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner discuss Disney’s latest blockbuster remake.
  • ‘We’re trying to live up to people’s imagination of what they remember ‘Lion King’ being,’ says Favreau.

DUBAI: There are few movies as resonant as Disney’s 1994 classic “The Lion King.” From its beautiful animation and memorable songs by Hans Zimmer and Elton John to its devastating emotional punch, the film has become a touchstone for an entire generation, one of the few films that unite nearly every person who has seen it across the world.

Now, 25 years later, director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man,” “The Jungle Book”) has brought “The Lion King” to life again for a new generation. Sitting in London, the first thing Favreau asks Arab News is whether we were part of the “Lion King” generation, and we were, mentioning to Favreau just how expansive the film still feels to us.

 Chiwetel Ejiofor, Director and Producer Jon Favreau and Donald Glover attend the World Premiere of Disney's "THE LION KING" in Hollywood. (AFP)

“That’s part of the challenge here! We’re trying to live up to people’s imagination of what they remember ‘Lion King’ being. We would watch it next to one another and there’s certain sequences that hold up incredibly well that we tried to follow shot-for-shot like (the opening sequence) ‘Circle of Life,’ but there’s other areas where we had the opportunity to update it and make it feel a bit more grounded in reality,” Favreau tells Arab News.

Remaking it for a new generation seems obvious, but — to borrow from another Disney classic — it was a Herculean task for Favreau and the huge animation team that supported him. This version remains fully animated, but uses cutting-edge technology to make the entire film photo-realistic. The characters, story, and songs remain, but the film looks more like a David Attenborough nature documentary than an animated movie.

It wasn’t just the technology that proved challenging, either. Making sure that audiences still connect with these beloved characters without the expressiveness of classic Disney animation was something that gave Favreau pause.

(Supplied)

“I worked on ‘Jungle Book,’ so I had some experience in this area,” he says. “Pretty early on, we got to try some different things and when you go to human, you think it would make you feel more but it really feels kind of bizarre, at least to me. I was limited if we were to go photo-real. If you go stylized like Pixar it’s great, you can do whatever you want. If we go ‘Madagascar’ you can make them stick their tongues out. The minute you start hitting photorealism, you hit the uncanny valley when you push the performances beyond what the real animal could do. Part of what makes it look so real is we limited what we allowed the animators to do.”

To be sure that audiences would connect with the characters, Favreau relied a lot on the voices that supported them, bringing in an all-star cast including Beyoncé as Nala, Donald Glover as Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, and Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa.

“If you look at a character like Pumbaa, to me he’s the most fun example, because when people saw pictures of Pumbaa they were like, ‘Oh my god! That’s horrifying! That thing looks like a monster!’ But when you watch the movie and you hear Seth Rogen’s voice coming out of it and the way the animators animated his body and what the character represents and feels, you have a tremendous connection to it. It’s a testament to the power of using techniques that we borrowed from documentaries or other films, where we limit ourselves to not anthropomorphize the characters,” says Favreau.

(Supplied) 

Eichner and Rogen both tried to remain true to the characters, but also stay true to themselves. “My idea from the beginning was that Jon cast us for a reason,” says Eichner. “He could have cast pretty much any actors. Anyone would have killed to do these roles and be in this movie. It wasn’t the right time to try a new persona. It would have been very strange had I all of a sudden had a deep resonant baritone. I figured he wants Seth to sound like Seth and me to sound like me — or at least what our public comic personas sound-like — and hopefully they’ll complement each other, which they did. Our goal was not to try a new character but to be as funny as possible together.”

As funny as Rogen and Eichner are in the film, it is still aimed firmly at kids — something Rogen hadn’t really considered prior.

Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen at the World Premiere of Disney's "THE LION KING" in Hollywood . (AFP)

“It wasn’t something that even occurred to me until we were making the movie and I was performing the bully scene,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is for kids!’ I have never done anything that was ever trying to instill any wisdom into kids in any way shape or form.”

The film’s wisdom, like the original, is far-reaching, exploring truths not only of family and loss, but of the corrupting nature of ambition and power, which Ejiofor explored in his role as Scar.

“Often, when people are obsessed with power and status, they aren’t really worried about what they do with it, they’re just concerned about getting it. It’s not something that’s connected to any kind of nurturing aspect for a community or anybody else. It becomes about the nature of obsession — obsession with power and status, and maybe status more than power, even though they are related,” says Ejiofor. “That’s one of the things that’s engaging and fun about the film and its themes.”