Bahraini artists share their creative vision as they prepare for ArtBAB

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From left, Fair Director Kaneka Subberwal, Lulwa Al-Khalifa and Somaya Abdulghani.
Updated 24 February 2017

Bahraini artists share their creative vision as they prepare for ArtBAB

With just weeks to go before Art Bahrain Across Borders (ArtBAB), the participants are fully immersed in their preparations for the event.
The contemporary fair, supported by Bahrain’s economic development agency Tamkeen, will be held in Manama from March 22-26 at the Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Center. Twenty-five international galleries and 10 Bahrainis will participate.
Arab News caught up with two Bahraini artists taking part to learn more about their creative vision.
Lulwa Al-Khalifa, whose paintings radiate energy through their colors and textures, works from her balcony overlooking the sea, and takes inspiration from the ever-changing light from sunrise to sunset.
“The view of the sea puts me in a positive state of mind. There is a joy that comes from the setting itself,” she reflected.
Al-Khalifa will show her most recent work at the fair.
“I have been working on some new paintings for a while now, so it is a matter of deciding which ones I want to present. I will have my own booth at the fair. This is an exciting time,” she said.
Asked where her love for art comes from, she said that it had been a vital element of her childhood.
“I grew up in a family where art was a very important part of our lives. We grew up appreciating it — not in the sense of ‘come on, let’s visit a museum’ — but as part of our daily lives. We were immersed in it. My father sketched — it was a way of expression for him and we grew up seeing that. He was the first person to help me with my sketches. As a kid when I drew ballerinas and princesses he would make a big deal about them and hang them on the wall and really encourage my creativity. Sadly, he passed away when I was very young — aged just eleven.
“I then did a course when I was at High School with an Italian painter and he taught me how to work with oils. But after that I didn’t do anything — except I always sketched.”
So what changed to make art integral to her life again? As Al-Khalifa explained, it was a tragedy that proved a turning point.
“In 2014 I had a very sad experience when a first cousin the same age as me passed away. I didn’t know what to do with myself to cope with this loss. As a way of dealing with the sadness my daughter suggested that we paint together on the balcony. I initially resisted the idea but she insisted.
“She went out and got canvases and paint and something happened — we painted for five hours. Then the next day we painted again and I used it as a coping mechanism,” the artist explained.
She appreciates the creative culture in her home country.
“I am very inspired by the art scene in Bahrain which is relatively old compared to the rest of the region. It started in the 1950s and is continuing to grow. The problem is that it is not widely publicized. It’s very layered and diverse and there is real talent here,” she said.
Looking ahead to the fair next month, she observed: “I think an art fair is essential for any country that is serious about its art. It’s a platform for local artists and international galleries to show their work. It’s a dialogue that needs to happen.”
Also exhibiting at ArtBAB is Bahraini artist Somaya Abdulghani. She described the inspiration behind her work.
“I’m presenting three mixed media pieces from my ongoing project, ‘Iqra’. Most of my work is inspired by the Holy Qur’an. I had been in my Qur’an club for almost a decade when my mentor asked the group to try sharing what we’ve learned with others. That night I went home and thought about the best way to communicate my message. Since art was always a hobby of mine, I felt that combining the two would be a good idea. So, I started incorporating my knowledge of the Qur’an into my art work.
She feels the upcoming art fair will be extremely beneficial to the country.
“It’s important because Bahrain can become an important hub for artists to express their imagination and showcase their talents and be a meeting point for art enthusiasts.
“Bahrain has always been a country full of creative artists and recently there have been more opportunities for these artists to grow and showcase their abilities,” she said.
Jonathan Watkins, director of the Ikon Gallery in the UK, who has extensive international experience of curating major events including the Sydney Biennale (1998), Shanghai Biennale (2006) and Sharjah Biennial (2007) has recently returned from a visit to Bahrain to explore the ArtBAB space and meet up with some of the artists.
“My role is to select artists exhibiting in the Bahraini section and to hang the work that has been sent from abroad in the international stands.
“This is a real voyage of discovery for me. I am coming at this from a not-for-profit point of view — I’m not in the commercial art world — I am a museum curator essentially. I am really interested in taking art out of conventional spaces. When we were confronted with this vast exhibition space your imagination runs riot with the possibilities,” he said.
Watkins explained that alongside the artworks there will be a fascinating display of moving images from video installations and films projected onto 40 large screens. Work by internationally renowned artists including Marcel Dzama, Cristina Lucas, Raqs Media Collective, John Stezaker, Beat Streuli, Gillian Wearing and Ming Wong will be shown alongside excerpts from Bahraini-produced documentaries.
The “Floating World” video installation will surround the ArtBAB exhibition spaces which will include a dedicated Bahraini art pavilion, gallery and individual artist stands and merchandise outlets and cafes.
“The combination of the architectural structure for the fair itself and the 40 large screen projections will be captivating. People will go for the fair and be surprised by the moving images and then they will find themselves in the fair — a cross fertilizing of audiences,” said Watkins.
Janet Rady, ArtBAB’s head of planning and development and a specialist in contemporary art from the Middle East, said: “ArtBAB will create a bridge between Bahrain and the world.”
The newly rebranded fair builds on the momentum of the Bahrain Artists Across Borders project launched at the Victoria and Albert Museum last May by the art adviser Kaneka Subberwal, who also established ArtBahrain.

Musical truth: Palestinian singer Maysa Daw blends the personal with the political

Updated 18 September 2018

Musical truth: Palestinian singer Maysa Daw blends the personal with the political

  • Maysa Daw is a young Palestinian singer
  • A guitar-driven singer-songwriter, Daw is a bundle of indie energy

DUBAI: Maysa Daw is a hard person to pin down. The young Palestinian singer has been busy dashing from gig to gig, completing an album and preparing to participate in a musical collaboration called the Basel-Ramallah Project, which is due to take place in Switzerland on Oct. 6. When we meet, she is in Chicago, about to go on stage at Palipalooza.

“We’ve been working on our solo show and I’m trying to write a few new songs but time isn’t exactly on my side at the moment,” she said with a laugh. “But writing always comes in-between things, you know. I’m always having these new ideas and I write them down, or new melodies and I write them down. At some point I’ll just gather them together and a lot of things will come from there.”

A guitar-driven singer-songwriter, Daw is a bundle of indie energy. Her live performances are raw and honest, her music a primarily personal reaction to the world around her. As a Palestinian living inside the Green Line, this can sometimes mean a world of conflict and complication.

“I always write about what I’m experiencing, what I’m feeling, or the anger that I’m feeling,” said Daw, whose debut album “Between City Walls” was written while she was living in Jaffa.

“It was a very different world for me. I grew up in Haifa, which is a lot more chill, a lot more relaxed, and suddenly I move to Jaffa and study in Tel Aviv, and everything was so intense. Everything was so new. It produced a lot of stuff. Love songs, break-up songs — political songs, too.

“There’s also one of my favorite songs, “Crazy.” I was so frustrated when I started writing this song. I was thinking of so many things at the time and I just wrote everything down. It’s exactly the way I was feeling, the things that I was asking myself. It talks about religion, it talks about death, it talks about politics — it talks about a lot of things.”

“Between City Walls,” which was released in June last year, may be indie in its sensibilities but its eight songs embrace a variety of sounds, not all of which are musical. Alongside samples of classical Arabic songs and Spanish guitar there are bursts of radio static and live voice recordings of people in the West Bank. As such, reproducing the album on stage, with drummer Issa Khoury and bassist Shadi Awidat, has not been easy.

“We’ve been trying to put material for a five-piece band into a three-piece band,” said Daw. “As such, we’ve been using more electronics and it’s been a very interesting challenge for us. But it’s got us to a place that I’m definitely very happy with.”

Daw is very much a product of Haifa. Born into an artistic family — her father is the actor Salim Dau — she immersed herself in the city’s independent Arabic-music scene, performing at venues such as Kabareet and collaborating with Ministry of Dub-Key, a Galilean group that fuses the sounds of hip-hop and dancehall with traditional Palestinian dabke.

She also recently finished recording an album with Palestinian hip-hop group DAM, who she joined about five years ago. Due to be released early next year, the as-yet-untitled album is her first full-length collaboration with the group. Prior to this, Daw and DAM recorded two tracks together, including the feminism-infused “Who You Are.”

Although Daw’s work gravitates toward the personal, much of it also can be viewed as intrinsically political. The song “Come with Me,” for example, is about two lovers kept apart by the separation wall, while “Radio” features the voices of refugees living in the West Bank. In snippets of their conversations you can hear them talking about the wall, the effects it has on their lives and their desire to tear it down.

“I do talk about politics but only because it’s a big part of my life, whether I want it to be or not. And believe me, I don’t,” she said. “But it is a part of my life.

“I started loving music way before I even understood what politics is. I only wanted to make music but with time I understood more about the responsibility that I could accept to have.”

She paused and corrected herself: “Not exactly a responsibility but a sort of a privilege. I have this voice that I can use and it has the potential to reach a lot of people. It made me realize that I can use this to talk about things that many other people can’t talk about.”

Daw once said that despite the perceived mundanity of everyday events, “everything we do here as Arabs is connected to politics.” As such, there is a vein of resistance running through much of her work. She sings of love under occupation, equality, society and religion, with freedom the ultimate objective.

“A lot of the time I write for the purpose of trying to tell somebody something, or trying to express my opinion about something,” she said. “And sometimes I just feel this thing that’s blocking me, that I need to release in any way, and my way of releasing it is through music.

“Sometimes I release something just for myself. I write it, I turn it into a song and I don’t release it to the world, because sometimes some things are too private. I still do it, I still work on a song and I still do it in a way that I absolutely love the song, yet it will never be heard by anybody else.”

One song on her debut album is sung in English, titled “Live Free.”

“You know, when I started making music and writing my own songs I started writing in English,” she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable doing it in Arabic. And at some point I realized that it was a little bit strange for me, because the whole personality of a person changes when you change language.

“I wanted to start writing in Arabic to see what it would bring, and it brought a very new side of me that I didn’t know. Everything was different: the melodies, the type of words I used, how I built sentences — something just clicked. Arabic feels a lot more like home when writing music.”