An exciting new photography exhibition opens this month, showcasing island talent and ensuring you won’t look at Bahrain the same way again
A group of Asian labourers stare at you from the open back of a moving van. Some are too preoccupied to notice you, others give you a discerning smile and one busies himself with his mobile. It’s an everyday scene in Bahrain, one so commonplace you’d hardly expect to be greeted with it hanging on a gallery wall. But that’s just what will confront you in an exhibition of photography entitled Transformation of Memories at Al Riwaq Gallery this month.
The result of an experimental workshop supervised by photographer and artist Camille Zakharia, this exciting exhibition brings together works by around a dozen photographers of various nationalities, including both professionals and amateurs, all of whom were assigned the task of documenting the changing world of people living in Bahrain.
‘We focused on how the urban landscape has been shaping our social identity and how surroundings form who we are today,’ explains Zakharia. ‘To bring the idea of transformation and memories under the microscope and highlight the photographers’ reflections on their surroundings.’
Gallery director Bayan Kanoo adds, ‘Globalisation is happening so fast that it’s affecting our identities and habits without our even being aware of it sometimes. So we wanted to document this transformation taking place in order to make people stop and think about what they’re doing, how their social behaviour is being affected by shopping malls and the bombardment of international brands, and to question things.’
One of the exciting aspects of the exhibition is to see how participants have responded to the same assignment in distinctly different ways: Bahraini talent Waheeda Mallullah created a unique video compilation of photos showcasing village women, while others captured the impact of architectural development and land reclamation on our coastal environment, and one photographer shot a group of children playing outdoors with bits of junk, a once-commonplace activity that has all but disappeared as a result of the impact of mega-malls on the way the young play and interact.
‘This part of the world has not had much exposure to documentary photography as an art form,’ says Zakharia, who cut his teeth as a photographer recording the effect of the war on his homeland of Lebanon. ‘But I believe that this exhibition will reinforce its importance. We wanted to achieve something extraordinary and I think we have. It’s been challenging, but at the end I was truly impressed by what these brilliant photographers produced, from the initial concept, to the execution and final production: photographs with substance that challenge public perception.’
Similar comment could be attributed to Zakharia’s own thought-provoking photographic art, which has been exhibited globally and recently earned him a short-listing for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Jameel Prize for work inspired by traditional Islamic Art and Craft. The finalists and winner (to be announced in July) will be exhibited at the V&A in London in September, but before then you can catch a collection of Zakharia’s Bahrain photographs exhibited alongside those of workshop participants right here at Al Riwaq.
Spanning the past 15 years, during which time Zakharia has lived on and off in Bahrain, the images document the marked changes that have occurred in the country over this period and support his belief in the importance of capturing one’s world through the lens. ‘Things change so fast and we forget,’ he says. ‘Now is the only chance we have to document the process of change in a visual manner, so that 20 or 30 years from now we will be able to remember how things were visually.’
Like a time capsule, Transformation of Memories promises to deliver a view of the rapidly changing Bahrain of today that will stick long in the memories of all those who visit.
Exhibit one: new gallery
Transformation of Memories was created especially for Bayan Kanoo’s new gallery at Al A’ali Shopping Complex, a cavernous industrial space with a New York-warehouse feel and avant-garde intentions. ‘We’re a non-profit organisation with a mission to establish a platform for the exchange of ideas between regional and international contemporary artists and the public, to provoke intellectual debate, and encourage and develop creative critical thinking and production,’ she says. Her intentions are met: the exhibition firmly establishes a space that is one to watch for things off the mainstream. Transformation of Memories, from April 5-30, Al Riwaq Gallery, 3rd floor, Al A’ali Shopping Complex (17 581 176). Open Sat-Thu, 10am-8pm.