The Kingdom of Bahrain may be small but it punches above its weight in the wealth and new tech stakes. It is now establishing itself as a leading cultural destination in the Gulf via ArtBaB.
The Art Collector visited ArtBaB (Art Bahrain across Borders) which is just in its second year. ArtBaB’s mission is to create a platform for both local and international galleries to engender a dialogue on how art bridges geographical locations by a shared aesthetic and artistic language. The incubation of high-quality home-grown artists juxtaposed against international ones created a fascinating platform for comparison of both the differences and the similarities.
There are several factors that contribute to making an art fair globally significant. The foundation is, as ever, great art; the structure is heavyweight collectors; the organisation is logistics, sponsors, media and invited guests. This is what has made the Frieze Art Fairs a superbrand.
A spade of art fairs in the UAE means that ArtBaB fits nicely into the emerging rhetoric of the Middle East as a cultural hot spot that is shaping up as a formidable contender to the West.
vThe requisite art-collector-guest ratio that is needed for a successful art fair is beginning to coalesce around ArtBaB. The fair is still young, but it means that ArtBaB is able to cultivate high-quality artists and works whilst building a more substantial art platform. The fair has already attracted renowned Middle Eastern artists and a handful of high-end commercial galleries from around the world such as Maddox Gallery, London, XVA Gallery, Dubai, Project 88, Mumbai and Bait Munza, Oman.
For the seasoned art circuit-hopper the art might come across as not edgy enough. At the same time, the works on show were underpinned by great skill and good taste. This is art that is not pandering to trends but has its own agenda. Some of the works had an iconic quality about them and will pass the test of time. It is, after all, the strength of talent that will place Middle Eastern (and Bahraini) artists into the cannon of contemporary art.
A good example are the works of Lulwa Al Khalifa defined by her own mission statement:
“Today art is weighed down by pretension that defies its true purpose, to inspire, evoke, provoke and delight. I believe that art is for everyone, it should be shared and appreciated.”
A self-taught painter, her oil canvasses are a mixture of abstract expressionism and the figurative. The blend creates a mellifluous hazy texture in the background, which is often in stark contrast to the very real and very beautiful figures in the foreground. The result is a magical – filled with colour and emotions.
You can view a sample of her works here.
Another example is Abbas Almosawis. You can read our interview with the artist here.
Omani artist Ahmed Al-Shukali was one of the few Omani artists exhibiting at ArtBaB. His introspective portraits draw in the viewer who are confronted with a very raw and real view into the everyday life of the working man. The portrait photographs are intimate and, relatively uncontrived, show every human’s basic essence – with the only difference being the eyes, which, as the proverb goes, are the window to one’s soul. Equally impressive are the expansive landscapes which breathe new life into an often empty space.
Structure: the Collectors
The fair has already attracted a few patrons from the Gulf and a trickle of quality collectors from around the world, clearly aiming at becoming a contender to the well-established neighboring ArtDubai.
With several well-known international galleries firmly entrenched at ArtBaB, it is evident that in a few years the fair will be booming with talent from around the world.
In terms of juxtaposition between art from the West and that from the Middle East, the former was dominated by trendy styles that are recycled in a lively manner with an array of pop art, the conceptual and the abstract. The Middle Eastern art, on the other hand, appeared to retain its traditional roots all the while experimenting with contemporary ideas. The Middle Eastern rhetoric is supported by traditional motifs and references, and enhanced by contemporary ideas and styles. It is already both well-received and exhibits all the hallmarks of enduring relevance.
ArtBaB is evolving organically, striving to combine authenticity with quality, as it grows to join the ranks of international art fairs. Having already generated sales of over 200,000 Bahraini Dinars this year alone, it is already making serious strides in that direction – both in terms of the works on show and in terms of high-profile attendees.