Ali al Saeed, award-winning novelist and the founder of Elham, is one of Bahrain’s art scene’s fiercest apologists
Time Out Bahrain staff
Define Elham in under 10 words? Elham is an evolving collaborative, socially engaging artistic expression.
What drove you to found Bahrain’s most active art collective? A need for artistic and creative stimulation. Many, like me, would seek to belong and Elham over the years has became a place that harboured creative minds and raw talents, to help them network and socialise with other creative people in a friendly and inclusive environment. In many ways Elham is a natural response to the current cultural situation.
You are best known as a writer, although Elham is very much about collaboration among the art forms. What does collaborating actually achieve? We must break the conventional and traditional perception we have of art. It must be a more socially engaging and cultural relevant phenomena. Through collaboration, artists learn more about themselves and look at things from more than one angle. We are always forced to look through one viewfinder, by engaging in such actions we create multiple ones. As a writer myself, I revel in collaborating with other artists and have found great reward in working with musicians and artists to turn my words into other art forms; to see a short story turned into an art installation, or poem into a folk song, shows that people can connect through art, and that they have their own vision of it.
Elham’s profile is about giving a platform to emerging artists. Why is supporting the arts in Bahrain important? Because the country is going through a grossly significant transformation, culturally and socially, and that must be documented in one form or the other. For any nation to define itself, it must embrace all its beauties and flaws, and celebrate the impact that has on it. And one way of doing that is through art. It must provoke us to engage in discussions, to ask questions and, more importantly, accept ourselves, as individuals, as a community and as a nation.
Is Bahrain a good place to be an artist? What is the greatest challenge? It is good in a sense that there is so much going on, such rich raw material to work with, layers of complexity and transformation. It feels at times that we are witnessing the birth of a new cultural era, a new generation has begun to make some noise, have their voice heard, and play a role in defining their country’s new cultural identity. It’s a process of progression. The downside of it is that many people might not truly see the significance of art and, in many cases, dismiss its value. The art scene is still young and needs a lot of support and investment. There are efforts, which must be noted, but maintaining a grassroots movement is also important on the long term.
What, for you, is the most exciting element of the Elham Art Festival this year, and why? The fact that it is not simply a showcase of local talent, but an outlet through which local artists can engage with each other, as well as members of the public, and be involved in producing work. It’s showing that we all can be part of this exciting journey of self-discovery, as a community. The workshops presented this year are poured into that direction, a collaboration based on improvisation and performing. They are aimed also to offer young and upcoming talents the opportunity to learn more about their own skills, explore their creativity, and push them to evolve.