A new view of contemporary Bahraini art

Self-taught artist Jamal A. Rahim, 53, with his artworks.
Writer and artist Ayman Jaafer (left) showing his artwork to visitors. ST PHOTOS: MATTHIAS CHONG
Writer and artist Ayman Jaafer (left) showing his artwork to visitors.
Self-taught artist Jamal A. Rahim, 53, with his artworks.ST PHOTOS: MATTHIAS CHONG

Paintings inspired by Islamic calligraphy and mixed-media works evoking Indian embroidery are among the diverse works of contemporary art from Bahrain on display here until Saturday.

The showcase at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Loewen Road features around 70 works of art from 18 artists, curated under the banner Art Bahrain Across Borders. This is an annual travelling showcase of Bahraini art, organised since 2015 by art consultancy Art Select and under the patronage of Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, wife of the King of Bahrain.

All the works are for sale and are priced between $2,000 and $17,000. The idea is to promote contemporary artists from the island country in the Persian Gulf, which has a cultural history dating back at least 5,000 years.

Previous editions of Art Bahrain Across Borders have been featured in the well-known Saatchi Gallery in London and historic Bikaner House in New Delhi. This edition debuts in Singapore after a showing last month at the famous Grand Palais in Paris.

Art Select founder Kaneka Subberwal co-curates the showcase in each country with the help of an international advisory panel. The one here was co-curated with Mumbai-based art consultant Amrita Kilachand.

Artists featured range from designer Noof Al Refaei, whose interest in Indian textiles is replicated on her mixed media works, to the paintings of writer and artist Ayman Jaafer, where Arabic calligraphy is used as a visual element rather than for its textual significance.

Ayman, 33, says: "In my opinion, Arabic calligraphy is not direct text to read. I do my art in abstract style so the letters can become free and meaningful."

  • BOOK IT / ART BAHRAIN ACROSS BORDERS

  • WHERE: Museum of Contemporary Art, 20 Loewen Road

    WHEN: Until Saturday, 10.30am to 7.30pm daily

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.mocaloewen.sg

The curator, Ms Subberwal, 42, says that artists from Bahrain "draw from an inheritance acquired over generations". A key stop on maritime trade routes for centuries, Bahrain was home to the mercantile Dilmun people and was influenced by the empires of Persia, India and later Portugal and Britain. Modern art movements found a foothold there a century ago.

India-born Ms Subberwal was struck by the little-known contemporary art scene in Bahrain after she moved to the Middle East more than a decade ago.

Having organised several art exhibitions in Dubai, London, Oman and Doha, she organised a boutique international contemporary art fair in Bahrain in 2015. ArtBahrain was also held last year and this year.

Alongside that, Art Bahrain Across Borders promotes the work of contemporary Bahraini artists, giving them much-needed international exposure.

She says: "We believe that the works will resonate with the Singapore art-loving public, as many of these are based on shared values, beliefs and causes, regardless of geographical borders or culture."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2018, with the headline 'A new view of contemporary Bahraini art'. Print Edition | Subscribe