An encouraging and refreshing new hub for Bahrain’s creatives
Time Out Bahrain staff
An encouraging and refreshing new hub for Bahrain’s creatives is launching this month thanks to Red Bull. Art consultant Frances Stafford takes us on a tour of Malja, a concept that’s spent years in the making…
Sound designer Hasan Hujairi and marketing leader Wafa Al Obaidat originally came up with the idea for Malja – meaning ‘shelter’ in Arabic – as a hub that offers the island’s creative folk a place to gather, experiment and collaborate. It’s a venture that aims to seek out emerging talent in Bahrain while offering a sharing spot for those already rooted in the creative scene. It’s as the official website states, Malja is a ‘platform for learning, development, sharing and growth’ asking the public to ‘get involved!’
The idea has already spent years in concept mode and now takes a step into reality as Red Bull has picked up and built upon it, thus announcing the official opening on January 30 at the old Alosra on Amwaj Islands (near the entrance gate to the community).
Forgotten shelving, signage and carts have been removed or repurposed, and the building has been renovated to fit the new multi-purpose art/music centre. Malja now has a large and airy central space that can accommodate up to 250 people and which acts as a gallery, café and art room (for project creation and dance groups), as well as a sound production studio and a stage for performances and talks.
Project manager Anke Brandt tells me, ‘Our co-founders saw a need for this sort of space on the island a few years ago and it was exactly what we had in mind when we started searching for the right elements to create a dynamic space.
‘We want Malja to be open to both the young and more mature members of Bahrain’s community, as well as the already established creative places such as the galleries and private entities that have been developing the country’s talent for years,’ she says.
To establish such a collaborative and creative hub, Red Bull has not gone into this alone as, through the process, they’ve involved various established members of the creative scene in Bahrain and the list of curators and collaborators on their website already boasts exceptional experience in their various fields of expertise. Tarik Omar, for example, is one of the co-founders of Boho Baha, a collective that has spurred a blossoming of the underground music scene in Bahrain and which hosts various music festivals and events such as Farmfest. Tarik’s awareness of what is accepted and valued by the public who enjoy live music and experiential art will certainly add to the success of the music programmes brought forward by Malja.
Alongside Tarik, street artists Huvil and Leon D, who use the urban environment as their canvas, aim to share their experience and skills in illustration and graffiti via workshops. Through their work, they have both honed in on the present interweaving of Arab pop culture and western ideology, and each demonstrate clear observations on the current shifts in presentation of this visual dialogue, both in Bahrain and the surrounding region.
In the years leading up to this launch of Malja, Red Bull has been busy rolling out various other projects in support of the world’s artistic communities. The Red Bull Music Academy in particular has been supporting aspiring musicians across the world for the last 15 years and Hasan Hujairi, who has played an important role in conceptualising Malja, has directly benefited from their encouragement in London. Meanwhile, here in Bahrain, RBMA has organised an annual club night which brings over international talents to share their experience and opinions on the nation’s music scene, and music production in general. This included December’s visitor, electronic music legend Derrick May.
For the arts in Bahrain, in 2013, Red Bull Collective Art encouraged local creatives to collaborate on a single stretch artwork that was connected to more than 30 other countries’ contributions, ultimately creating one single continuous piece. Then, in April 2014, Urban Culture Week was celebrated and held in a private residence that had been transformed into a fresh public art centre. This provided many previously unseen talents with an opportunity to present their work to the public.
Now, with Malja, Red Bull can offer these talents an even greater platform as it positions itself as a unique creative hub in the Gulf.
Annually, the gallery space will showcase a permanent contemporary art exhibition, alongside four additional separate temporary exhibitions with one in each quarter throughout the year. There is to be a whole programme of talks and lectures, workshops and special events to support the space, adding to Malja’s overall reach in the community.
‘We want to be taken seriously as a participant in the art and music scene in the region,’ Anke explains. ‘We want to be seen as a credible source of talent and production here in Bahrain and in the Gulf in general,’ she adds.
For me, as an artist and consultant, as well as a resident of Bahrain, it’s refreshing and definitely great to see an international company like Red Bull stand so firmly behind this island nation, and the people, like me, who call it home. For more information on Malja and its activities visit www.maljabahrain.com.