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Affairs of the art in Bahrain

With increasing sales of local and international art, the third edition of ArtBab amply indicated the growing art market in Bahrain

Bahrain isn’t the first place one thinks of when mentioning art. Indeed, even in the Gulf region, there are examples of major museums, including the recently opened Louvre in Abu Dhabi. However, digging a little deeper revealed that Bahrain is not just the oldest outpost for culture, its passion for art and supporting infrastructure is the oldest in the region too.

 It was little surprise then that the just-concluded third edition of Art Bahrain Across Borders (ArtBaB), has in its short existence, become one of the most anticipated art fairs in the region. Organised at the Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre, between march 15 and 18, with a preceding VIP day, the fair showcased the best of local artists, besides hosting a number of international galleries from across continents. 15 galleries and 13 independent artists from 11 countries were present at the fair.

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 “ArtBab is Bahrain’s premier art event which brings together the global art community along with local artists said Kaneka Subberwal, fair director, ArtBab. “This year the participation at ArtBab increased by 35 per cent over last year. We had 10 galleries on show last time compared to 17 this year.”

 That contemporary art and Bahrain have a long tradition is event from the work of its artists. “Since the late 1970s, there has been a lot of contemporary art in Bahrain,” points out Huda Al-Saie, a Bahraini artist who pioneered porcelain paintings in the country. Her representation of Dilmun seals – contemporary to Indus Valley Civilisation – was a highlight at the fair.

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 Another highlight was a performance piece by Ayesha Hadhir, whose work, Collectable Table, had people flocking to click the work –  a wearable art piece that is both sculptural and performative.

 The fair wasn’t all paintings though. Conversations@ArtBAB programme brought together an exciting grid of talks, discussions and interactive sessions led by artists whose work represents the cutting-edge of contemporary art movement.  A star at the event was Hasan Hujairi, a Seoul-based Bahraini composer, sound artist and independent researcher, who debuted a sound performance translating John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing into Arabic.

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 Visitors can be part of the artworks too. Renowned Italian artist collective Antonello Ghezzi will be presenting Blow Against the Walls.  Visitors blew bubbles against barriers that represent universal divides. As the bubbles impact the wall and go through it, a canvas will capture the expressions of these people and their breath.

 Mariam Fakhro, one of the participating artists, whose works capture Bahraini women in canvas and sculptures, says “in art you forget all the difficulties. Through my art, I like to make audiences happy.”

 Indian gallery and artists had quite a prominent presence at the fair. Among the Indian galleries present at the fair were Nitanjali and Samara, while Jaideep Mehrotra was among the 13 independent artists exhibited.

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 Sculptor Sonal Ambani, known for stainless steel horses, and the occasional elephants, expressed happiness at the fair’s reach and sales for her Samara Art Gallery. Simrin Mehra Agarwal, who works with organic and plant forms, says she is interested in animism. “My shows are well received, and the region is coming up very well,” she says.

 “We launched in the UK in May 2016 – since then, there has been an increase of 22.5% in sales as on December 2017,” says Subberwal. With India, our first two shows in Delhi and Mumbai saw a total of 11 works being sold. This for a huge market like India, where buyers are traditionally used to buying Indian art was a very big footprint as it establishes an impact on a discerning Indian art collector.”

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 ArtBAB reinforces Bahrain’s position in the Gulf as a regional arts hub, inspiring entrepreneurship, art education and local skills development. The contemporary art fair, which is the flagship project of the Art Bahrain across Borders movement, is a collaborative venture with Tamkeen and since its launch in 2016, it has created a new international trajectory for Bahraini artists around the world, with exhibitions in the UK, Delhi and Mumbai.




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