By MARYAM PHILPOTT
Art needs to have “a broader culture” writer and curator Alistair Hicks explained at the launch of the Be Bahrain Art Week, which showcases a small selection of inspiring new works from some of Bahrain’s leading artists. Speaking during a panel discussion about the growth of creative industries in Bahrain, Hicks explained that the Middle East currently has some of the most interesting and innovative artists from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Initiatives like ArtBahrain Across Borders (ArtBAB), facilitate such cultural transfers, and have begun an important dialogue that can benefit artists in both regions. Following a successful introductory exhibition launched at the V&A in May and an international art fair held in October 2014, Be Bahrain Art Week exhibits the work of a selected group of artists working across several mediums for a week-long public showcase at Asia House near Great Portland Street.
In a collection of insightful and interesting work, Abbas Al Mosawi’s large acrylic painting entitled Sooq (2015) is an astonishing semi-impressionist work that mixes clearly defined buildings and people with blended patches of colour to show variations in light and shadow. The scene depicts a narrow traditional street with multilevel higgledy-piggledy buildings depicted in shady cool blues and greys, while a bright yellow and white beam of sunlight cuts gently through the centre to illuminate the receding alleyway.
Similarly impressive is Mariam Fakhro’s 2015 Memory of the Place 2 which layers acrylic on a large watery blue, green and grey canvas. From one angle it could be a series of villages in a hillside, while the scratchy layering and removal of paint creates a pixelated 80s computer game quality, as well as referencing Monet’s water lilies which the artist may never have seen. It was interesting to note the work of Faika Al Hasan at the V&A event whose paintings are full of tiny Lowry-like figures, had never heard of the British artist so clearly patterns emerge in responses to artist’s environment even when they are continents apart.
During the panel discussion that preceded the exhibition, artist Lulwa Al Khalifa talked about Bahrain’s vibrant art scene in which, regardless of gender, she feels free to express her ideas. The work she displays are two dynamic red and white images of accelerating horses, but to create the sense of movement both canvases are vertically striped with thin white lines that from a distance look almost like 3D quilting and even up-close feel like a single rendition of an entire flipbook.
This showcase also contains work in other forms including a complex photo-montage printed on canvas by Abbas Al Mosawi (2016) that shows a villa nestled into sandbanks with Bahrain’s famous skyscraper emerging from it; a nice evocation of past and future colliding. Playing with similar themes is Somaya Abdulghani whose series of small tile-like canvases reference the traditional elaborate and kaleidoscopic patterns of Middle Eastern design but up close are configurations created using smalls rocks, pebbles and shells, as well as patterns etched into sand and then flipped and rotated to create symmetrical tiles.
As well as opening Bahrain to a wider artistic audience it also has a commercial element which will culminate in a second art fair for dealers, buyers and galleries from 22nd – 26th March 2017. But liked the UK, art is a tourist attraction and panellist Nada Alshaiba, who moved from the oil and gas industry, is working with local artists to “bring art to completely different audiences” by offering prints on scarves, notebooks and even in the lining of leather jackets – a business model many UK galleries will recognise as they peddle Van Gogh tote bags and Renoir umbrellas to their visitors.
With two events this year alone, the movement to bring Bahrain art to the UK is gathering considerable momentum and this week-long showcase is an opportunity for the public and potential buyers to learn more about the influences and approaches of Bahraini artists. London, Alshaiba explained, is a wonderful platform because it attracts visitors from all over the world and can create an international community to engage with. ArtBAB has uncovered some exciting new talent so expect to hear a lot more from Bahrain’s artists in 2017.
Runs until 21 December (excluding 18 December)| Images: Contributed