We meet the Bahrain-based art trio making waves in London and further afield
Time Out Bahrain staff
One’s just had an exhibition in London and their artwork is popping up all over the island but just who are they? We spoke to Yasmin and Jenine, two of the trio, to find out more.
So, who are the Sherabi sisters? Yasmin: Our father is originally Palestinian but held a Jordanian passport and is now a naturalised Bahraini. Our mother is American from South Dakota. Our parents met while studying in the US and moved to New Jersey after they were married, which is where Karima was born (in 1979). Our father then began working in Athens, which is where Jenine (1985) and I (1981) were born. Our family lived in Greece until 1989 and then moved to Bahrain. We studied at St Christopher’s school- both Jenine and I completed our A-Levels at St Christopher’s and Karima completed her IB at Bahrain School.
Karima began her studies at Parsons School of Design in NYC where she completed one semester and then moved to Montreal with me. She completed a degree in political science at McGill University and I completed my BA in studio art and art history at Concordia University. Jenine studied graphic design at Central Saint Martins College in London, UK, and I began my MA in art business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. After completing university, Karima moved back to Bahrain and continues to pursue her art which ranges from figurative work to work that expresses her deep interest in spirituality and philosophy.
After completing my MA I moved to Dubai where I worked at Cuadro Fine Art Gallery. I was then offered a job at the Bahrain Financial Harbour where I currently run an art space - the Waterline. We are in the process of development and have a lot of great projects lined up for the upcoming year.
As an artist, in the past at university, I focused on exploring materials and method - I particularly like drawing. Recently I have been more interested in developing conceptual work and have been exploring the expression of dualities - possibly partly due to my own feelings of being inherent of a cultural dichotomy - largely due to my background and upbringing. I have worked on a series of photographs mirroring the graffiti you see around Bahrain. The idea was to show two opposing viewpoints in a manner that allows all elements of the image to come together in a geometric pattern and to compliment one another. At times, the viewer will also see images appear out of the patterns - also stating something about the illusion of truth: how what one person ‘sees’ as true may differ when another person is looking at the exact same subject. Jenine moved back to Bahrain and now works as an in-house graphic designer for IBG (International Business Group). The projects she worked on at university really helped her develop her artistic work as she had to come up with creative concepts that were accessible to the masses. Her work is greatly successful in this way - her PDA (Public Display of Affection) series (which was shown at the Edge of Arabia Gallery in Battersea, London over the summer) received such a great deal of attention and this continues to grow with our T-shirt business.
As sisters, we are very close and hold similar values - we appreciate creativity, art, music and are all quite bohemian in a sense. I really believe that our upbringing and our parents’ non-materialistic values and having lived in various countries and amid differing cultures (but not being OF one culture) and our choice as to not define ourselves as ‘this’ or ‘that’ has really influenced our way of thinking. Despite our parents coming from such different cultures, certain attributes and the intrinsic values that they hold are so similar. This has meant that we were raised to never simply look at the superficial or apparent nature of things around us and instead to always question and ‘scratch the surface’ before passing judgment - continuing to do so means that you can never really be judgmental and allows us to stay true to and to appreciate ourselves. At the same time, we are all very spiritual and appreciate the interconnectedness of life.
When did you decide to start Sharabi and why? Yasmin: We started Sharabi about six months ago. We knew that we wanted to develop something that would allow us to showcase our individual talents and that would also allow us to work together - we value our roots and wanted to pay tribute to our bond, through our art. We also each feel that we want to have some kind of impact on society through the use of positive messages. We want our work to express empathy, tolerance and love - to allow the viewer to think for themselves by not being overtly political, offensive or assertive.
Where will people have seen your art in Bahrain? Yasmin: I’ve curated various exhibitions at the Gallery at BFH (now The Waterline). Two of the exhibitions that I worked on recently involved emerging local artists. Each of us participated in these. We have also participated in exhibitions with Al Riwaq and recently took part in the Ministry of Culture’s BAB market where we sold our Sharabi brand T-shirts and artwork.
You’ve recently had an exhibition in London, tell us about that, where did the ideas come from to present a far from traditional picture of Arabic romance? Jenine: I was participating in a local exhibition that Yasmin curated, the title was “Out of Place” and the participating artists were invited to create a piece of work inspired by this subject matter. Public Display of Affection was one of my initial ideas. It is always the simplest ideas that stick out the most. I really don’t like to overcomplicate things for the sake of sounding smart or outwitting people, so if I have a clear idea that I find a simple solution to then that’s the one I go for!
When I did the series I wasn’t sure about how it would play out or how people would react. I thought it was funny so I thought other people would think it funny too. I did make sure it was politically correct by making them wear wedding bands in each just so I could back myself up in the case that any of the conservative types got offended.
How was it received? Jenine: Honestly, living in this region you will find that anything and everything can be interpreted as provocative by some male chauvinist claiming himself as an Islamist. There is, without a doubt, always going to be one of them lurking among the masses waiting for something to shout about. But I think that’s great! Shout about it! Go ahead! Give us something to chuckle about and reconfirm your own stereotype that we find laughable.
A month after I had posted the PDA series on my website I randomly Googled my name (as you do) the usual stuff came up but I noticed a blogger I had no connection to had mentioned my work on Tumblr. The list of likes, reposts and comments was endless! And to my pleasant surprise all but a few of the reactions were very positive. Of course there were the odd negative ones, one person actually said there was racism and privilege in my images and my words.
I think a couple of people, such as this one, misunderstood that this series is not targeted at the West and not really about their reaction, it’s targeted at the people its about and their reactions, and I found the people it targeted reacted positively. Regardless, any reaction is a positive reaction to me. The more exposure and debate the better. That’s what it is all about in the end, challenging people’s existing ideologies, in a positive way.
You also produce T-shirts and other artworks where are they available? Jenine: As of now the majority of the merchandise/artwork is sold from home, through Facebook and Instagram. We have recently started building up a list of contacts for boutiques across the Gulf and hope to have a distributer in every state. Overseas orders are also accepted. You can find us on instagram @sharabi3 and on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sharabi/513851995310575?ref=br_tf Which sister does what or is it all collaborative and where does your inspiration come from? Yasmin: We each work independently on our own work and often turn to one another for critique and advice. With regard to our Sharabi brand, both Jenine and Karima have designed concepts - Jenine PDA and Karima ‘Love Not War’. It is now my job to come up with the third concept that I am currently working on! We gain inspiration from so many things…. Our background, the society in which we live, from our amazing friends in Bahrain, our family, one another, music, the politics of today, spirituality, nature, travel….. and life above all. What’s next for the Sharabi sisters? Do you have any more expos coming up either here or internationally? Yasmin: We are working on developing our brand and fixing up our website as well as finalising new designs for T-shirts and other products. We will also continue to develop our own artwork. I will be organising a festival at BFH for emerging and experimental creators designers, musicians, chefs - all of whom will be collaborating to develop art spaces within the Financial Harbour - such an initiative will help support and bring to light the immense amount of creativity there is on this tiny island. We will hold workshops and film screenings and the event will be open to the public. It will likely take place in December/January. The three of us will all be involved in this project in one way, or another