Delhi’s Bikaner House turned itself into a “mini Bahrain” this past week, with a number of contemporary visual artists and art aficionados from Bahrain present here for an art exhibition. The three-day show, which ran through 9-11 October, was organised by Art Bahrain Across Borders (ArtBAB)—an organisation that promotes Bahraini artists through fairs and varied cultural programmes.
After their first exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London last year, ArtBAB has made their way to India. The Delhi show, which marked their Indian debut, displayed a range of paintings as well as a couple of sculptures. In this travelling exhibition, whose next destination will be Mumbai—a show at the Bombay Art Society from 30 November to 2 December—there will be different artworks displayed by the same set of participating artists.
ArtBAB has organised these exhibitions in India in association with Rouble Nagi Art Foundation. Kaneka Subberwal, the programme director of ArtBAB, is originally from India and has been living in Bahrain from the last ten years. She spoke to Guardian 20 on her initiative. “Through this exhibition in India, which promotes the script and diverse culture of Bahrain, we wish to showcase art from Bahrain in India and in the process also take along the knowledge of Indian art forms to Bahrain.”
An artist from Bahrain, Seema Baqi, wants to bring people with different beliefs and cultures together. According to the artist, her art which is clearly inspired by cubism, also spreads the same message. In those highly abstract geometric forms of her Picasso-esque paintings, Rise and Respect, she displays her close connection with Sufism. She said, “Much like the authentic Bahraini culture, the root of Sufism is based on the practices of loyalty, love and truthful intentions. It is like a form of tradition and beauty which I have tried to bring on the canvas. I have collaborated with several artists in the past and through my practice I wish to make people understand the significance of peaceful coexistence.”
“My explorations in the world of the Arabic alphabet, in all their meanings and connotations in the Arab and Islamic culture, opened up the world of abstraction and mysticism.”
The main hall of Bikaner House provides a huge space for experimentation. But during this show it appeared as if the setting was not judiciously utilised. At the previously held zari exhibition here, the installed saris were the primary focus of the show, and the viewers could move around and appreciate the pieces. But here, the artworks were pushed to the wall and lacked, due to the standard style of placement on the four walls of the rectangular room, a sense of close interaction with the visitors. Still, the 40 artworks, displayed under the theme “Unsaid”, could transfix the viewer, if one walked up to each of the pieces.
One of the 18 artists selected for this show was Ayman Jaafar. In his paintings displayed at the show, Jaafar makes extensive use of the Arabic alphabet. The artist brings viewers close to the beauty of the script. Along with practicing art, Jaafar also delves into literary writing. He said, “My explorations in the world of the Arabic alphabet, in all their meanings and connotations in the Arab and Islamic culture, opened up the world of abstraction and mysticism. I try to document the biography of this intensely poetic moment through these figures.”
The exhibition was supported by the Princess of Bahrain, Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa. Representing her at the event was Shaikha Maram Bint Isa Al Khalifa, the director of the office of the Princess. She said, “This initiative by the Princess, her major interest here is to support art and artists around the world. She believes that there is wealth of talent in Bahrain which has been growing since the 1960s, and this talent deserves to be showcased around the world. It should be taken to as many destinations as possible around the world because we are really proud of it. Also, we want the interaction between Bahraini and other artists around the world as those who are creative by nature understand the common language of art.”
Another artist from Bahrain Maryam Nass had displayed two intricately done abstract paintings, titled Duplicate Dreams. The artist has created small paper birds on canvases which showcase textured, uneven patches, and lines in brown, blue and white shades. “I worked on these two paintings simultaneously,” said Nass. She shared her process of overcoming grief through painting. “Art was the only way which gave me an escape from constant over-thinking after the death of my father and brother. When I create elements in my paintings that require precision, I forget the pain. Painting, in a way, releases you from insurmountable emotions,” said Nass.
Now that Nass’ method to silent the voices in her head was clear to me, Duplicate Dreams offered multiple interpretations. One of which could lead the viewer to imagine artist as a bird trying to find her carefree self again in the daily humdrum of life.