(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) ''Art isn't about paint on canvas, or sculpting marble and clay. It's much more than that. Anything can be art. It's how you perceive life. It's how you can find the beauty in things around you - even in ugliness.''
A breathless monologue Raya al Maskari delivers with the conviction of the wholly committed. For this 20-something Omani artist, seeing worth in the things the rest of us take for trash is almost second nature.
It's a gift grounded in many summers of experiential knowledge that found expression last year with the creation of the Oman Recycled Arts Foundation (ORAF).
Conceived with the mandate to elevate the profile of recycled art in the sultanate and bring the genre closer to the mainstream, the NGO has proved a popular online meeting point for the like-minded from across the country.
It is today a purely virtual presence, but one that is gradually getting the word out. For Raya, who co-founded ORAF with her sister Iman and brother Abdullah, the aim of the foundation is to both spread and sustain enthusiasm for recycled artwork.
''Recycled art as a campaign is usually like a match-fire. It burns for a while, rises and then disappears. It's like a phase; everyone gets really excited and then that's it,'' she said.
While Raya has never exhibited her recycled artwork, it's something she ''would love to do if there is an art gallery that respects this kind of art''.
''Some of the artists from the Omani Society for Fine Arts do use recycled materials in their artwork. However, it was never highlighted as such; they usually term their work 'mixed media'.
''I believe recycled art should be its own school of art (in Oman). We've had classic art, Andy Warhol and pop art. It's time now for an art form that's up to date and relevant to our times.'' In essence, an art form that is equipped to deal with the myriad challenges of the modern world."
''Plastics, and in particular, plastic bottles. I'm obsessed with them. And Styrofoam. I don't know why people use them. They are so toxic.''
Her carefully laid out studio (''The guestroom,'' Iman corrected) bears testimony to the depth of this obsession. Hollowed-out and halved bottle bottoms line the bookshelves, finding new life as paintbrush and pencil-holders, and mixing palettes constructed from mashed-up styrofoam plates and cups hang off the edges.
And at her workplace, a bouquet of dried roses in a repurposed chocolate box.
''It's functional art. There are also water bottle lids, cardboard boxes, newspapers and whatever comes across my mind. I just keep it until I get inspired and turn it into an art piece.''
The well-spring for Raya's particular oeuvre came from her summers in Tunisia, where as a teenager, she found inspiration in the work of Madame Liz, a French artist whose palm frond art pieces taught her how to ''create beautiful art from inexpensive materials available in nature. I like the way she perceived life.
With her, I believed I was an actual artist when I was just a teenager. Working with recycled materials is my way of paying homage to her.''
That's the kind of inspiration Raya hopes to impart to schoolchildren in Oman through ORAF, especially in government schools. In private schools, recycling-themed artwork has been a part of the curriculum for a while.
Heather Ford, primary art co-ordinator at The Sultan's School, teaches art to mostly pre-teen students.
The syllabus's 'environment' module has younger classes preparing plastic bottle fishes while older students create Picasso-inspired 3D portraits by ''scrunching up and modelling cardboard boxes and cereal packets''.
''At this school, we do care about our community, both within and beyond our walls. We're always looking for ways to be environment-friendly,'' she said.
''We use a lot of found materials - usually things that people are ready to throw away. We try to reuse paper. We try to make use of everything. It's got to be innovative and fun and the children need to see the benefit of creating something new and exciting instead of throwing old things away.''
Similar lessons are taught at other private schools in Muscat. Jenny Stretch, creative arts co-ordinator at Muscat International School (MIS) has her teenage students the age-group ORAF looks to train its message on - take ''inspiration in how artists, craftspeople and designers have recycled unwanted everyday objects to create interesting creative pieces of work. Discarded items can be given new life and meaning or function.''
''Using discarded items to create artwork can be a challenge, but there is something beautifully aesthetic and satisfying about creating unique pieces of art from other people's overlooked trash. Repurposing these items not only provides resources for the art studio that can be transformed, but more importantly keeps them out of the landfills,'' Jenny said. ''One man's trash is another person's treasure.''
Examples of this philosophy found display at a school art fair last term, in which a prom dress made entirely of chips packets and an evening gown crafted from fishing nets and sea debris took centrestage.
Haneen Ibrahim, who designed the 'chips dress', observed that her schoolmates ''consume a sizeable amount of crisps. People usually think nothing of throwing them in the bin''.
She crafted the dress after collecting ''over a 100 used crisps packets'', going to pains to clean the dirt and grease out of each one. ''But it was definitely worth the hard work,'' Haneen said.
''The dress has a clear message: You can make exciting things from the unthinkable - who would've thought disgusting crisp packets that end up as waste would make such a beautiful gown?''
In crafting the 'marine life' dress, Catherine Colley drew inspiration from Oman's coastal environment.
''Catherine collected debris and washed up scraps of fishing net from the beach. She also reused plastic, giving it a new lease of life, painting it in colours that reflect the mood of the ocean,'' Jenny said.
''I was inspired by the way other artists and designers used recycled objects which would normally go to waste but instead was remade into something so fresh and beautiful that you would not be able to tell they were recycled,'' said Catherine.
''I think this is a very important thing in this age, with all the pressure to go 'green', but many are people unsure how to go about this,'' she added. This is where Raya hopes ORAF will come in.
''My siblings and I had the chance to study in schools with intensive awareness programmes about recycling. And our hope is to help spread this awareness to the schools here,'' she said.
''I would love to take this message to the local schools. We hope to meet more people that are more serious about this. I wish that academic institutions would take this more seriously. Recycled art should be a part