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Bahraini artists share their creative vision as they prepare for ArtBAB

From left, Fair Director Kaneka Subberwal, Lulwa Al-Khalifa and Somaya Abdulghani.
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.
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.

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