Bahraini art movement gains momentum in London

ART SHOW: From left, Janet Rady, Dr. Ebrahim Janahi, RT Hon John Whittingdale, Kaneka Subberwal, Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al-Khalifa and Aissa Deebi at the private launch reception held at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
Updated 26 May 2016
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Bahraini art movement gains momentum in London

LONDON: Under the Patronage of Bahrain’s Ambassador for the United Kingdom Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed, the inaugural BAAB exhibition 2016 kicked off in the heart of London, with 40 unique artworks unveiled during a private launch reception held at the highly-reputed Victoria and Albert Museum. Celebrating Bahrain’s topography, rich culture and traditions, the London collection has been inspired by the first batch of 17 artists of the Bahrain Art Across Borders (BAAB) initiative.

The event also saw the launch of the art catalogue titled BAAB – Bahrain Art Across Borders, featuring all the artists, their profiles and their respective artworks displayed in London.
Commenting on this exclusive event, Tamkeen’s Chief Executive Dr. Ebrahim Mohammed Janahi, stated: “Art and Culture form the cornerstone of any country’s identity and heritage. It also plays a key role in driving forward economic activity, especially as it is one of the primary gateways for anyone who deals with a country.”
BAAB’s London portfolio reflects the strength, originality and tradition of the Bahraini identity through various forms of visual art, such as painting, sculpture and photography, and depicts a range of inspirations from the Arabian horse and its historic place in traditional Arab culture, to ultra-sound scans, religious iconography, and the art of tea. The inaugural group of BAAB artists representing Bahrain in London comprises both established names in the Bahraini art scene as well as emerging talent, with a predominant female presence that throws light on the growing influence of women artists in the Arab world.
Kaneka Subberwal, Founder of Art Select (a brand of Art and Spice), commented, “Bahrain is renowned for its rich history, culture and heritage and this is further manifested in its creative talent. BAAB London is an ideal platform for our Bahraini artists to showcase their vision to a global audience and link them to art collectors and enthusiasts from across the word.”
The BAAB London 2016 exhibition will be relocated to Gallery 8 from Friday where it will stay for nine days, until June 4, 2016.
The artists include Amina Al-Abbasi, Balqees Fakhro, Ebrahim BuSaad, Faika Al-Hassan, Ghada Khunji, Ghassan Muhsin, Hamed Al-Bosta, Jamal Abdul Rahim, Lulwa Al-Khalifa, Marwa Al-Khalifa, Nabeela Al-Khayer, Noof Alrefaei, Omar Al-Rashid, Taiba Faraj, Sumaya Abdulghani, Mayasa Al-Sowaidi and Mariam Fakhro.


Iraq’s top musicians play on despite unpaid wages

Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra conductor Mohammed Amin Ezzat leads musicians during a rehearsal at Baghdad's School of Music and Ballet. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Iraq’s top musicians play on despite unpaid wages

In a dusty Baghdad dance studio, conductor Mohammed Amin Ezzat tries to fire up the musicians of Iraq’s National Symphony Orchestra, whose enthusiasm has been dampened by eight months without pay.
An aging air conditioner fights to beat back the summer heat in the cramped space at the capital’s School of Music and Ballet as the 57-year-old maestro leads the group through a rehearsal of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain.”
The shaggy-haired Ezzat and the 40 musicians surrounding him are gearing up to perform at Baghdad’s National Theater on Saturday, but the group’s morale is at an all-time low.
The ensemble has lost more than half its members since the start of the year, when the government issued a directive barring state employees with two jobs from receiving two salaries.
The anti-corruption measure was suggested by the World Bank and should affect only about a third of the orchestra’s musicians, but because of delays in carrying out the reform wages have been withheld from the entire group.
“The orchestra is in great danger,” Ezzat said. “Some don’t have enough money to come, and others are disappointed by the impact of politics on the orchestra.”
Officially created in 1970 after several unsuccessful attempts, Iraq’s national orchestra has survived decades of upheaval.
It has survived wars, an invasion, a 12-year international embargo and a devastating three-year battle against Daesh militants, which came to an end last year.
But this may be the last straw for the outfit, a collateral victim of Iraq’s “war on corruption.”
“Not being paid for eight months has had a terrible psychological effect on the musicians, but we’ll continue to resist peacefully with our music,” said Ezzat, who became the orchestra’s first Iraqi conductor in 1989.
“We’re on the precipice but sure that we won’t jump.”
When all its salaries are tallied up — including the maestro’s $1,200 a month, peanuts for a major conductor — the orchestra costs the state about $85,000 (€73,000) a year.
The sum is a pittance compared to the exorbitant figures siphoned off by ministers and high officials who have either fled or been arrested.
The conductor, his daughter Noor, a timpanist, and his sons Hossam and Islam, who play the cello and viola respectively, have all been without a salary since January.
But according to Raed Allawi, the head of administrative affairs at Iraq’s Culture Ministry, there is no reason to panic — the wages will soon be paid.
“The Finance Ministry has asked for a regularization of contracts. Verification measures are underway and this explains the late payment of wages,” Allawi said.
“The orchestra is one of the country’s cultural showcases (and the ministry) respects its artists and their talent.”
For the symphony’s musicians, however, these are empty words they have heard already.
Saad Al-Dujaily, a professor of medicine and a flutist, thinks the measure is regressive. “I’ve been an obstetrician and a flute player since I was very young,” he said.
Because of the directive, the 57-year-old practitioner — who teaches at Baghdad’s Al-Nahrain University and plays in the national orchestra — is now entitled to only one salary.
“In Iraq, we’re proud to have more than one job, to have more than one love, to practice two professions with the same love and passion,” said Dujaily, who plans to continue with the orchestra to help preserve its quality.
Further along into the rehearsal, the studio’s electricity cuts, a common occurrence in a country plagued by power outages.
The orchestra cannot afford the diesel to fuel the building’s generator.
But the musicians play on in the windowless room, using their cell phones to illuminate the sheet music. “There have been crises in the past, but this is the worst,” said Doaa Majid Al-Azzawi, an oboe player.
“Especially since my father and I are musicians. We don’t know what will happen, but if the orchestra has to stop, it’s culture in Iraq that will be dealt a deadly blow,” the 25-year-old said.
When the studio’s lights eventually make a flickering return, so too does the players’ enthusiasm, and the music swells.
“As long as we live, music will live. It’s our culture,” said Noor, the conductor’s daughter.