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.

Highlights: Next-gen designs from the Global Grad Show

The Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week 2018. (Arab News)
Updated 19 November 2018

Highlights: Next-gen designs from the Global Grad Show

  • The Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week showcased 150 innovative designs created by students from around the world
  • Designs ranged from high-tech solutions to simple objects

DUBAI: Highlights from the Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week, which showcased 150 innovative and potentially life-changing designs created by students from around the world, ranging from high-tech scientific solutions to conceptually simple physical objects.

Ukranian designer Olga Zelenska says her work “focuses on simplicity, sustainability and aesthetics of design,” and “From Nowhere With Love” delivers on all three. It’s a set of biodegradable postcards, designed for “migrants and modern nomads” to allow them to take a piece of their homeland’s nature with them wherever they travel. The postcards contain seeds specific to the plant life of the country or area in which they are bought. Those seeds can then be planted wherever the buyer — or the recipient of the postcard — wishes. (We’re not sure they’re guaranteed to grow well, but you get the idea…)

Yara Ahmed Rady is a product design student at the German University in Cairo. Her GGS project “Dyslexia Learning Difficulty” is designed to help dyslexic children learn Arabic through a series of exercises that use conventional teaching techniques which Rady has transformed into educational games using digital technology and engaging all five senses, thereby, she wrote in her project description “offering alternative routes to literacy.”

One of the questions that GGS was attempting to answer this year was “How do we do more with less?” South Korean designer Yesul Jang, currently studying in Switzerland, came up with a product which addresses the needs of the ever-growing number of people living alone in small apartments or rented rooms in urban spaces. “Tiny Home Bed” is a raised bed with storage space — covered by a sliding fabric curtain allowing easier access than drawers — beneath. The frame is constructed of lightweight wood and is, Jang insists, “easy to construct.” Just as importantly, it’s not an eyesore.

After several years of working in the sportswear industry, London-based designer Jen Keane wanted to come up with a more sustainable way to make products. By combining digital and biological technology, she created a strong, lightweight, hybrid shoe that is made partly from bacteria. “I weave fibers into the shape and the bacteria grows around it,” Keane explained to Arab News. “It’s kind of a scaffold.” Keane added that she created the shoe in her kitchen at home. “I don’t have a lab,” she said. “I don’t have a [science] background. I learned how to do this by reading a lot, experimenting and talking to biologists. It’s totally doable.”

Sustainability also factored into Christian Hammer Juhl’s thinking when the Netherlands-based Danish designer was creating his inflatable furniture collection “10:01.” Made from dense foam material, the furniture can compress down to 10 percent of its original size (through a process similar to vacuum packing). So it’s not only ideal for modern transient lifestyles, but also means that transport from factory to retailer is more sustainable too.

Billed as “clothing that can save your life,” David Bursell’s “Tardigrade” is the jacket you’re going to want to be wearing when the zombie apocalypse hit. Or, you know, a more conventional kind of Armageddon (Bursell says it was “inspired by climate change and the increasingly extreme natural and social crises it will trigger”). “Tardigrade” can be transformed into a shelter, a shoulder bag, a hammock, and any number of other things. It’s detatchable pockets can be used to collect water and other material. A warning though: at the moment, the jacket aids survival for “three to seven days,” so you might want to invest in several if things get really bad.

“It’s flying lighting for urban safety,” designer Jiabao Li told Arab News about “Twinkle,” which she co-designed with fellow Harvard student Honghao Deng. Basically, flying drones clamp themselves to lampposts during the day to recharge their batteries, and at night they head to poorly lit neighborhoods. “They fly off to follow people around and provide sufficient lighting to guide their way. Like fireflies,” she explained. Both designers describe their creations as “living” creatures. “They’re curious animals,” said Deng. “We don’t think they should be owned. They should just be living around the place.” Li and Deng are currently talking to various governments trying to get permission for a trial run.

Developed by a team of students from the Art University of Isfahan, “Naji” is an ingenious product designed to provide assistance in times of severe flooding. In normal situations, the device — four rectangles constructed of ethylene vinyl acetate (“resilient and buoyant”) with holes in — forms part of the base of streetlights, and the designers claim it will fit into existing infrastructure without the need for additional construction. If an area floods, however, the device floats to the surface of the water and provides a place for people to sit safely in one of the squares, strap in and await rescue.

Another team project, this time from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, “Acorn” is designed, according to the team’s statement “to be entirely beneficial to the environment.” Lead designer Zhang Liye told Arab News that the project is specifically intended for use in desert cities like those in the Gulf “because the soil lacks minerals and nutrition.” “Acorn” is an easy-to-assemble biodegradable plant base made from compressed crop waste that you simply bury in soil so that it can provide that missing nutrition to your plant.

A great example of how designers at GGS tackled another question: “How can technology make us more human?” In other words, how can we make life easier for people in tough situations? “Sahayak” is designed for porters working on railway platforms in India, who traditionally carry luggage on their heads, which can create several long-term health issues. “Sahayak” is a backpack that transfers the weight of their loads from their heads to their shoulders and protects the spine. “The design uses an inexpensive torsion spring to distribute the load throughout the backpack’s frame, reducing the load borne by the user’s head and neck by 75 percent,” designer Risbagh Singh claimed in his GGS statement.