Frances Stafford and Yasmin Sharabi on inspiring the region's artists
Time Out Bahrain staff
Frances Stafford and Yasmin Sharabi are not only just great friends but they both come from artistic backgrounds, having been curators and exhibition specialists their entire working lives. So, it was only natural that they set up a business together that plays to their strengths and combines their Western knowledge with Middle Eastern experiences.
Through this new art consultancy, Stafford & Sharabi, they plan to support the burgeoning arts scene in Bahrain and introduce our region’s artists to the wider world.
To do this, they organise and curate art exhibitions and creative events, focusing on everything from the concept development to the event management, and offer collections management, acquisitions and appraisals services for people and companies looking to develop an art collection. Quite a resumé. We speak to the ladies themselves about how they see this panning out.
What inspired you to start Stafford and Sharabi? Yasmin: Both Frances and I have similar experience with regard to curating exhibitions, working with artists and organising creative events. Plus, we both consider ourselves artists and for that reason we have a unique outlook and creative vision. We have also worked together on a few occasions and found that despite our overlapping experience and similar interests and ambitions, we often have different strengths and so it was almost natural that we combine our skills, knowledge and expertise and establish our own consultancy.
Is there a gap in the market for this kind of service? F: Yes. The services we offer are specialised in the sense that they are focused on the arts and supporting the arts within Bahrain – which is so necessary at this point in time – but they are also quite broad in that we appeal to a wide variety of clientele and have the experience and knowhow to satisfy our clients’ needs with whatever creative consultation they may require. We are also both very well-connected in our field with key contacts worldwide and really believe that if we focus on building, bridging and developing connections with our contacts in the region and internationally, this would essentially lead to very interesting projects that will be beneficial to Bahrain and the wider region.
What kinds of projects have you worked on so far? Y: Previously, Frances and I have organised various exhibitions within Bahrain and abroad. Most recently, I organised an exhibition in Palestine with 40 artists from the Gaza Strip in Ramallah, Palestine – a project I did in collaboration with the UNDP, the Institute Français (Jerusalem), PADICO (Ramallah) and the APT (Artist Pension Trust).
F: I have worked for the Ministry of Culture for three years now as a senior exhibition specialist responsible for the coordination of various exhibitions such as the ‘Dolls of Japan’ and have also worked on the Bahrain Pavillions for the Venice Biennale – both Art and Architecture depending on the year. I also started the Bab Market Festival in 2012. That was a really great project that allowed for various members of the artistic community to come together and has allowed for some more interesting collaborations, like Boho Baha, an independent music platform, to develop.
What qualifies you both to be a consultant in this field? Y: I completed my MA in Art Business at Sotheby’s Institute, London in 2006 and I suppose it was from then that I became quite immersed in learning about the global art market. When I moved back to the region, I started working at a gallery in Dubai and it was at that point I was able to develop my knowledge of the art scene and artists from the region.
F: I graduated with a BA Honours in Art History from Carleton University in 2008. I was very interested in the preservation of the Culture of Canada’s First Nations people (native aboriginals) through visual and performative art so I would say that was the first step that led me towards my interest in the traditional and contemporary art forms of different cultures with strong links to lineage, heritage and sense of ‘place’. After university, I lived in Toronto where I had contact with many art collectives and artists who were really interested in interactive public and community based art. From there I travelled to the Netherlands and arrived in Bahrain in 2010 where I started curating at Al Riwaq Art Space.
What does the future hold for Stafford & Sharabi? F: When we first considered Stafford & Sharabi we wanted it to be a global brand, not something that was solely focused on Bahrain, although we are happy using Bahrain as our base. Being in the centre of a dynamic and emerging region – from a western standpoint – it’s a great place to be located and the amazing creativity arising from this country deserves to be showcased. We believe that the combination of our names reflects our vision – one that aims to combine international standards with Middle Eastern experience and to connect our contacts abroad with our contacts in the region.
Y: We have plans to work with a diverse group of artists and to present our services to a wide range of public and private institutions that will allow us to showcase work from large-scale environmental installations to sound and film, for example. We also aim to develop exhibitions with Middle Eastern artists and to promote artists from the region to new collectors abroad – in the UK, the US and Canada – and vice versa. We have some really interesting projects coming up! Visit www.staffordandsharabi.com.