Acclaimed novelist Ali Al-Saeed uncovers some of Bahrain's most exciting artists and looks at the thriving art scene on the island
Something is stirring in Bahrain. The country is witnessing a cultural rebirth, with the evolving of a group of artists who are stretching the limits of creativity, and quietly but steadily making their presence felt on the art scene locally, and even internationally. The emergence of new groups such as the Elham Creative Arts group in Bahrain, is also playing a role in finally bringing much-deserved public attention to these artists. Whereas previously they produced their work behind the scenes, now they have a platform to express their creative voices.
For a small island, the diversity is extraordinary. The art coming from this young generation is contemporary, fresh and oozing verve; a body of work with a free, confident spirit. From art, to literature, and from music to computer animation, these are the faces who are the current behind the waves of change at the shore of Bahrain’s new creative age.
Artist/DJ/illustrator/writer For the past 15 years, Fawaz has locked himself away and dedicated all his time to his work. Starting out as a graphic designer, the 31 year old has evolved to be one of the hottest talents on the island in recent times. His graphic design and digital art is drawn from local mythology and the environment around him and he combines these influences with a contemporary, edgy feel. Splashes of bright colours and strong graphics, mixed with his own photography, reveal this young man’s vast imagination.
As if that’s not enough, Fawaz has established himself as a DJ on the nascent techno-music scene in Bahrain. He has set up his own record label to showcase his beat-infested, electronic melodies, injected with classic Arabic vocals, old Bahraini drums, and other traditional samples, to create fresh new sounds. Coming from a largely creative family (his mother is a published author) Fawaz couldn’t resist dabbling with words as well. He’s been hard at work penning several books, both in Arabic and English, including a novel that combines Bahraini mythology with its history. All in all Fawaz is a creative force to be reckoned with.
Folk singer/song writer It was only a matter of time until Bahrain had its very own folk hero. Last year, Ala released his debut EP ‘Hums’ to rave reviews. It’s a tender, gentle record featuring five haunting songs that evoke troubadours like Bob Dylan and Damien Rice. Having dedicated himself to his music while studying in the US in Boston, Ala wrote, recorded and produced the record in his own bedroom. He then worked on creating a fan base for himself by playing to small crowds around New England.
It was no surprise to see him winning local music fans over as easily as he did those in the States, and his hurtful, soothing voice can regularly be heard reverberating across the Bahraini airwaves. A tender and sensitive presence, Ala attempts to communicate the humanity of people, emotions and memories through his songs. He is currently working on ‘Whispers’, the second of a trilogy of EPs, and collaborating with other musicians. Ala sings about love, family, religion and politics and is a refreshing, honest voice that demands not only admiration, but also respect. Let’s hope that his talent can help him break into the international music world.
Artist Mariam is quite a character. Her art is provocative and eccentric, which is reflective of her personality. Young, bold and challenging, Mariam is determined to show the rest of the world that this part of the world – and especially her country – can produce significant and serious art. She is on a mission. In 2003, she moved to Australia to pursue a degree in Fine Art in Melbourne. Since then, she has been heavily involved in producing new work, taking part in various art shows, and is actively engaged in creating and conducting programmes aimed at exposing art from Bahrain and the Middle East to the rest of the world, through the Metasenta Projects, at the RMIT University in Melbourne. Mariam is keeping busy this year with two group exhibitions coming up in Australia as well as a series of art workshops conducted through the Metasenta Projects in Bahrain by the end of the year. Her art is nothing short of contentious. She challenges us to confront our perceptions and prejudices on such sensitive issues as disability and deformation. She wants to tell the world that life is ugly, sometimes, but that it’s alright to show it.
Poet With six books of poetry under his belt, Ali is considered one of the more established young Bahraini poets; a strong voice from a new generation of brave auteurs who are not restricted by subject or matter. His already potent body of work proves that he is an eloquent, capable scribe of the Arabic language with his own distinctive style. At the age of 33, Ali’s work has been translated into several languages and featured in numerous academic books and literary journals. He has also travelled across the Arab world sharing his poetry. He began writing as a teenager and in those early years his poetry was characterised by revolutionary and political ideals. So much so, that it led to him being imprisoned in the mid-’90s. It was a turning point in his life as a poet and it gave him the time to reflect and to expand his literary knowledge. Less radical than before, Ali’s post-prison work has a more philosophical bent, more in tune with the human spirit and human condition. His is a contemporary voice that is hard to ignore in a country famed for its traditional poetry.
Filmmaker Mohammed has gained a reputation as one of the most promising filmmakers in Bahrain recently with the release of two short films. His award-winning 10-minute long Absence – a touching story about the frailty and foreignness of aging – demonstrated what this 25 year old is capable of achieving with limited resources and ‘zero’ budget. It went on to be screened in various regional and international film festivals and won him the ‘jury award’ at the seventh Rotterdam Arab Film Festival. In Absence, Mohammed showed a subtle and deft touch rarely seen in local films, and a true vision in terms of how to tell a story with depth, but with as little action as possible. Mohammed shot his other film, From the West, over the span of only three days during his Eid holiday, as his then full-time job as a lawyer meant he had little time for his passion. But this did not deter the ambitious filmmaker. His interest in producing films began at the age of 17, and he is currently working on several projects, including a commission to produce his first feature-length movie.
Sculptor Even those with a cursory knowledge of Bahrain’s artistic landscape are likely to have seen one of Khalid’s many wonderful creations. His distinctive sculptures are popular with gallery owners and have left their mark on the public when and wherever they have appeared. Usually working with wood, stone and brass, the 31 year old creates smooth, curvy sculptures that are characterised by their simplicity. His work is often seen as challenging the duality between two individuals, or among other groups. He has participated in many exhibitions and sculpture symposiums around the world and his work can be seen in museums in Bahrain, Portugal, Oman and Egypt, and was featured in the ArtAsiaPacific Almanac 2008. Khalid was one of a select group of Bahraini artists to participate in the Spring of Culture festival earlier this year.
Artist/photographer There aren’t many young Bahraini women around who have what Waheeda has; a strong connection to her culture and heritage, with a contemporary creative vision. Waheeda graduated with a degree in marketing and advertising and pursued a career in graphic design. She launched herself into the local art scene a few years ago by participating in several group exhibitions as a member of the Bahrain Contemporary Arts Society, and has won artist residencies in Cairo and, more recently, a three-month residency in London through the Delfina Foundation. Her work has also been exhibited across Europe.
Her participation in the third Contemporary Curves exhibition in 2005 brought her wide acclaim. Her video installation, Play, was an intriguing look at life, movement and change in a Bahraini village set-up. Waheeda’s photography is just as insightful and compelling. A good example of this is ‘A Day in the Life of a Village Woman’. Waheeda is a prime example of a modern Bahraini women, in the way she expresses herself, and the society around her, through such creative outlets.
Animator It may come as a surprise to many, but chances are that Khalid Al Muharraqi is probably more renowned for his work as an animator in Hollywood than in his own country. The 35-year-old backbone to the success of the now internationally established Muharraqi Studios, has achieved great feats in the field of computer animation, illustration and modelling.
A photography and interior design graduate from the Art Institute of Houston, Khalid – following in the creative footsteps of his father, the celebrated artist Abdulla Al Muharraqi – developed a fascination with computer graphics and animation. After maintaining a successful business in advertising and picking up several awards on the way, Khalid felt the need to further explore his creativity. He made a big impression immediately and before long became one of the leading CG artists from the region. Architectural visualisation is one of the key factors that Khalid excels in, having created astounding designs for some of the biggest property projects on the island, including Durrat Al Bahrain and the large-scale project to create the future master plan of the Kingdom of Bahrain in 3D.
But his heart lies in more artistic work. Khalid’s unique characters and fascinating mythical creatures have won him praise from leading industry publications around the world. Inspired by Bahrain’s history, tradition and his own culture, these creations showcase Khalid’s artistic vision and the depth of his imagination. Combine that with his continuous support to the CG community and his strong online presence, and it’s easy to see why Khalid has become such a prominent figure on the international scene.