Highlights from ArtBAB 2019

“Shaar Banat” Mashael Al-Saei. (Supplied)
Updated 28 February 2019

Highlights from ArtBAB 2019

  • The fourth edition of Art Bahrain Across Borders opens on March 6 at the Bahrain Exhibitions & Convention Center
  • The four-day art fair is presented under the theme of “Legacies”

DUBAI: The fourth edition of Art Bahrain Across Borders opens on March 6 at the Bahrain Exhibitions & Convention Center. The four-day art fair is, this year, presented under the theme of “Legacies,” and will explore five decades of the Bahraini contemporary art scene.

This year’s ArtBAB includes, for the first time, a ‘Virtual Reality Corner’ alongside the more traditional media, where visitors will be able to “literally ‘touch’ celebrated contemporary Chinese art collections, 17th-century Dutch and Flemish masterpieces as well as millennial VR artwork.”

“In the 2019 edition of the fair, we shall explore not just the heritage and legacies that inspire Bahraini contemporary art, but also the new directions of art on the global stage,” Shaikha Maram bint Isa Al-Khalifa, director of the Office of Her Royal Highness Wife of the King of Bahrain, explained in a press release.

Kaneka Subberwal, fairs and program director for ArtBAB 2019, described the fair as “an exciting amalgam of Bahraini art and cutting-edge trends.”

Here, Arab News presents a selection of works that will be on show at this year’s fair.

“Shaar Banat”

Mashael Al-Saei

Al-Saei is a film photographer and art director. In her “Shaar Banat” series, she aims — according to the fair’s promo literature — to “hyper-emphasize the subject matter of hair as a marker of Middle Eastern beauty” and invite questions about “the reality of the beauty culture” in the region. Al-Saei produces images of women “drowning in their own locks” with their faces concealed, “thus allowing the viewer to insert themselves into the photographs.”

Al-Saei concentrates on analogue photography, believing that the extra time and focus required — along with the temporary nature of the form — “translates the rawness and reality of her subjects.”

“Water Reflection III”

Nabeela Al-Khayer

Al-Khayer, who trained in London, Paris and Geneva, is known for her focus on female empowerment and exploration of women’s issues, but has lately taken to “depicting with the same depth and emotion the magnificence and mysticism of water in all its unexpected moods and movements.” She often employs contrasting textures and materials, and a range of techniques, in her art, to portray the “depth, the complexity and unpredictability of life.”

“Weaved 2”

Sarah Al-Aradi

Al-Aradi describes her portraiture as a combination between the figurative and the abstract and uses her work to explore “the influences of modern beauty, spirituality, and the depth of the human soul.” Fashion and beauty trends are major influences on Al-Aradi’s work, she says, and she selects colors and moods related to “the state of love, transformation and enlightenment.”


Reem Janahi

“Through my work, I tell the story of the women in my life,” says Janahi. “They are the anchor of my being. My work has become a tribute to them and to the way they have shaped my life.”

The artist describes her work as “a mirror of thought; it is a reflection of who I am and how I feel,” and as a “mourning of lost youth, a tribute to past struggles, and an indication of future strengths.”

“El Shuyookh”

Halla bint Khalid

The Saudi Arabian artist is perhaps best known as an illustrator of children’s books, but she began her career as a fine artist, and was a pioneer in the Kingdom, producing life-like portraiture in the Eighties and Nineties — a time when such art was considered by many as blasphemy. This oil painting, for example, is part of her “Saudi Heritage” series and was created in 1995.

“Untitled 1”

Balqees Fakhro

For Fakhro, according to her bio, her abstract painting is a way to “reproduce the range of emotions she encounters in the music of Mozart or Stravinsky.” The celebrated Bahraini artist studied in Beirut and the US in the Seventies, and is now one of the most influential female artists — and art critics — in the GCC.

“My paintings revolve around the themes of belonging and memories of places,” she told Bahrain Arts Magazine. “My monochrome color scheme gives my paintings a dreamlike quality and a sense of vagueness. This allows the viewer to interpret the painting and make sense of it according to his or her own background.”


Maryam Nass

Nass began painting aged 15, but abandoned art for several years, only beginning again in 2005 and finding it “a means of achieving internal peace and a silent medium for dialogue.”

“Abstract art is a way for me to express, rather than illustrate, feelings and inner emotions,” Nass says in her artist statement for ArtBAB. “Words are not always understandable or received well, but a painting can have hidden messages or meanings that do not have to be revealed. Mine are created without a plan, without an explanation, just a spontaneous composition after having dared to descend into my inner self.”


INTERVIEW: Lebanese director Nadine Labaki continues to ride wave of Capernaum Cannes success

Updated 23 May 2019

INTERVIEW: Lebanese director Nadine Labaki continues to ride wave of Capernaum Cannes success

  • Labaki is currently serving as the president of the Un Certain Regard jury, the first Arab to do so
  • “Capernaum” has become an unexpected blockbuster in China, reportedly grossing $44 million in just over two weeks

DUBAI: The success that Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s third film, “Capernaum,” continues to find across the world is astounding — even to her. Just one year ago, “Capernaum” won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival — a jury chaired by Cate Blanchett — after a 15-minute standing ovation. The film went on to be nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, with Labaki becoming the first woman from the Arab world to receive that honor. Now, perhaps most surprisingly, “Capernaum” has become an unexpected blockbuster in China, reportedly grossing $44 million in just over two weeks.
“It’s crazy! I can’t believe it! I really can’t. Why there? It’s all very new, so I still don’t know what it means exactly, but we’re soon going to find out,” Labaki tells Arab News in Cannes.
With its success in China, along with the US, Middle East and across Europe, “Capernaum” has reportedly become the highest grossing Arabic-language film in history.
“There’s been rumors going on for the past two to three days, and it’s like, ‘What?’ I still can’t believe it. It’s living proof that an Arab film with no actors can actually be a box office hit — can actually return money, make money for investors. You know how much we’re struggling in the Arab world to make films, find money, find funding, find investment. Especially for a Lebanese film,” Labaki says.
Labaki was in China just one month ago to show the film at the Beijing International Film Festival, and although the film got a rousing response in the room, she didn’t feel the reaction was any stronger than anywhere else the film has shown.
“Maybe it’s because there’s more than a billion people in China, but even the distributor is saying it’s working like any big blockbuster movie,” says Labaki.
The Chinese release of the film has one major difference from other cuts. The original version of the film tells the story of a young boy named Zain El Hajj (played by Zain Al-Rafeea) struggling to survive on the streets of Lebanon with the help of a young Ethiopian immigrant named Rahil and her undocumented infant son Yonas, dreaming of escaping as a refugee to Sweden. The story is not far from Al-Rafeea’s real-life situation at the time — he is a Syrian refugee. Since the film’s release, though, Al-Rafeea and his family have been relocated to Norway, something the Chinese release includes at the end of the film as a short visual report.
“The film ends on his smile, and in a way there’s (now) a continuation of real life in that story. This is really happening, it’s not made up,” says Labaki. “That’s why we’re making a documentary around the film. Maybe it’s a way of comforting people, knowing that he’s alright, he’s good, he’s in a better place. Deep down, people know this kid is going through this in his real life, they know he’s not just an actor in this film.
“I think it’s comforting to know Zain is in a different place now. He’s travelled. He was dreaming of going to Sweden the whole time, and now he’s really in Norway. He has a new life, a new beginning, a new house. He’s going to school, all his family is with him,” she continues. “It’s a complete shift of destiny. Maybe the fact the distributor added this report after the film made people understand that this is a real story and a real struggle, and not just another film.”
Though this is a huge moment for Arab film in general, Labaki doesn’t believe that the success of “Capernaum” necessarily signals a greater appetite for Arab cinema worldwide.
“I don’t think it’s about (where the film comes from). It’s about good films. It has nothing to do with the identity of the film or the country it’s coming from, really. It doesn’t mean if this film worked in China that another Arab film will work in China,” she says. “Maybe there’s going to be more hope for Lebanese cinema in the sense that investors will be less afraid to invest in Lebanese films, but it’s about the script, the filmmaker, the craft, the know-how. This is what gives confidence to somebody.”
Speaking to Arab News at the renowned Hotel Barrière Le Majestic Cannes on one of the busiest days of the film festival, Labaki is currently serving as the president of the Un Certain Regard jury, the first Arab to do so. Labaki began her relationship with Cannes in 2004, writing and developing her first feature, “Caramel,” at the Cinéfoundation Residency before showcasing the film at the Director’s Fortnight in 2007. Both of Labaki’s subsequent films — “Where do We Go Now?” in 2011 and “Capernaum” in 2018 — debuted at the festival, each in increasingly competitive categories.
“I feel like I’m their baby, in a way. With a baby you start watching their first steps, see them grow, protect them, push them… They’ve accompanied me in this journey, and recognized and encouraged me. It’s great — I really love this festival. I think it’s the best festival in the world. I like the integrity they have towards cinema. You feel that watching a film in Cannes, you know that you’re not going to watch just anything — there’s something in there for you to learn from, to be surprised by, to be in awe of. There’s always something about films that are shown in Cannes,” says Labaki.
In approaching her role as head of the jury, Labaki is focusing on connecting with the films, and taking on the perspective of myriad filmmakers from across the world.
“I don’t watch films as a filmmaker. Never,” she says. “I watch the film as a human being… I don’t like the word jury. I don’t like to judge because I’ve been there — I’m there all the time. I’ve been in those very difficult situations, very fragile situations, where you’re making a film, where you’re doubting, where you don’t know, where you don’t have enough distance with what you’re doing, and you don’t have the right answers and you’re not taking the right decisions.”
Just as her own films have become increasingly focused on the problems facing Lebanese society, Labaki believes that contemporary film cannot help but be political, and must accept its role as a commentary on the world we live in — something that she feels she’s seen in the films in her category.
“Cinema is not just about making another film; it’s about saying something about the state of the world right now. Until now, every film we’ve seen is (doing that). That doesn’t mean that cinema that is just art for art’s sake is not good — there are so many different schools — but I feel we’re becoming so much more responsible for this act,” she says. “You become an activist without even knowing you’re becoming an activist, and saying something about the state of the world. It’s important.”