First published on ArtClvb
Text by Arie Amaya-Akkermans
One of the questions most often asked about the future of art in the Gulf and the Middle East at large is that in the absence of comprehensive art schools, professional curators and art critics, how could regional art be slated for growth and development? It is also said that the economic considerations of institutional projects – museums, fairs and exhibitions of well-known Western artists – are solely directed towards fueling tourism and foreign investment but will have next to no effect on the home-grown artistic scenes. While there is a grain of truth in this analysis, it also falls short on many levels and undermines local artists.
A small but significant local art scene is growing in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, even though it was in Bahrain where art from the Gulf debuted first early in the 20th century, as a product of exceptional circumstances, and has continued developing since then. Nevertheless, the complex politics of the Gulf and the relative isolation of Bahrain’s position after the rise of Dubai have somewhat stalled further development and art from the tiny island-kingdom remains largely unknown. There is no lack of exhibitions and cultural activities in the kingdom, but opportunities for emerging artists are only rarely available.
A new initiative developed by Albareh Art Gallery and its independently operated ABCAD (Albareh Center for Art and Design) running from January through April has sought to tackle the challenge of providing an alternative space for art education and professional training. The “Artists Leadership Programme”, a brainchild of art patron Hayfa Aljishi and sponsored by Tamkeen and Bahrain Economic Development Board, is an ambitious initiative focusing on the development of professional skills and artistic capabilities for Bahrain-based artists through a series of workshops and private mentorships, creating a broad range of opportunities only very rarely available in the Gulf region.
With a commissioned artist and curator, Mo Reda, in charge of mentoring a group of twenty-four artists in collaboration with Bahraini artist and musicologist Hassan Hujairi, the project took off with a drawing improvisation workshop, to be followed by a workshop with award-winning photographer Camille Zakharia, mentoring artists in professional skills such as portfolios and statements. The main final product of the initiative is planned to be a series of research-based group exhibitions, some of which are planned for the end of March.
The importance of the program lies not only in its educational value but in that the gallery is interested in nurturing a selected group of artists with the purpose in mind of helping them grow, representing them, exhibiting their works and ultimately bring them to biennales and fairs. This welcome addition to the artistic panorama of the Gulf presents itself as an opportunity for Bahrain to reclaim its long-established status as a cutting-edge cultural hub in the region and bring diversity to an art scene that in spite of its many qualities and achievements has been more or less stalling for the last decade.
It has been nearly five years since the “Contemporary Art of Bahrain” exhibition was held at Art Center Berlin, back in 2008, showcasing some of the most mature talents in painting from Bahrain, all of which are still active today. Since then, hardly anything has been heard of Bahraini art in the international scene – perhaps except for the discovery of Rashid Al Khalifa by Leila Heller – and in the tide of changes and turbulences that have swept the Arab world in recent years, perhaps there is no better timing than this to explore and filter what it is that emerging artists from Bahrain want to tell us through their work.
Source: Albareh Art Gallery