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
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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.


‘Atlas of Beauty’: A Romanian photographer captures images of female beauty that defy every stereotype

Updated 16 July 2018
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‘Atlas of Beauty’: A Romanian photographer captures images of female beauty that defy every stereotype

  • Since 2013, Mihaela Noroc has photographed over 2,000 women in more than 50 countries, listening to their stories and learning about their lives.
  • For Noroc, beauty is diversity. She believes each one of the “shining stars” in her book radiates dignity, strength and beauty. 

JEDDAH: We live in a world where female beauty standards vary but are all socially and culturally constructed. The Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc traveled that world with her camera and backpack, photographing women in their everyday surroundings and listening to their stories. The result is the “Atlas of Beauty.”

Since 2013, Noroc has photographed over 2,000 women in more than 50 countries, listening to their stories and learning about their lives.

“I noticed that there is a lot of pressure on women to look and behave a certain way,” she told Arab News.

“In some environments, it’s the pressure to look attractive. In others, on the contrary, it’s the pressure to look modest. But every woman should be free to explore her own beauty without feeling any pressure from marketing campaigns, trends or social norms.”

For Noroc, beauty is diversity. She believes each one of the “shining stars” in her book radiates dignity, strength and beauty. 

During her five-year odyssey, there have been tremendous ups and downs. Yet, with each country, Noroc never failed to tell the story of the woman in her photographs. Some countries were deemed dangerous — but she traveled there anyway. 

“In Afghanistan, I traveled in a remote area called Wakhan Corridor. The fighting was very close, condemning this place to total isolation,” she said. “People were living like their ancestors lived hundreds of years ago, so photography was a miracle for them. They were incredibly happy to see themselves in photos and I was invited to every home to photograph each member of the family.” 

Visiting North Korea, Noroc was accompanied by local guides as she walked the streets to get a glimpse of women in their daily routines as if nothing was out of the norm. 

“There is a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way, so sometimes it’s a struggle to be yourself, to make yourself accepted as you are. But I hope this project will encourage more women and men to follow their own path, to explore their own beauty without feeling constrained.”

Traveling as a backpacker introduced Noroc to all kinds of environments. She has captured beauty in Brazilian favelas, in an Iranian mosque, on the Tibetan plateau, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the Amazon rainforest, upscale neighborhoods of Paris, downtown New York and more. 

She focuses on photographing the environment around the women, and prefers to photograph their natural faces, without a lot of makeup.

Noroc also makes sure that she chats with her subjects while the photographs are being taken — she is an excellent conversationalist. 

Woman shopping at a market in Nampan, Myanmar.

“Many of the women I photograph are in front of a professional camera for the first time. This isn’t bad at all because they are more authentic. For even more authenticity, I always use natural light. Through my camera, I try to dive into their eyes and explore what’s inside.”

Each image is raw, colorful, delicate, intimate, striking and empowering. A Jordanian Bedouin grandmother sits with her children and grandchildren in the background, the woman’s deep wrinkles revealing her desert life living off the land.

Another image shows the resilience in the striking green eyes of a Syrian refugee with her two daughters in a camp in Greece. In Jodhpur, India, a young woman heads to the market in a vibrant fuchsia outfit and silver jewelry. 

“There is much love, beauty and compassion in the world and I see it with my own eyes. Yet a few sources of hate and intolerance can ruin all this. Many times, the victims of intolerance are women, and while on the road, I hear many heartbreaking stories,” she said.

Gauri, an Indian from Kolkata, India, sells splendid flower garlands at a Hindu temple. Female “bomberas” (firewomen) in Mexico City. Sisters Olga and Anya, street performers from Odessa, Ukraine. Eleonora, a ballerina from St. Petersburg, at one of the most prestigious dance schools in the world. A Mayan descendant in Guatemala donning a colorful dress and posing in her village. These are just some of the stories in the “Atlas of Beauty,” yet the journey is continuing since there are no limits to beauty in this world. 

“For me, beauty is diversity and it can teach us to be more tolerant. We are all very different, but through this project, I want to show that we are all part of the same family. We should create paths between us, not boundaries,” said Noroc.