The best exhibitions, photography, poetry, music and movies from the Elham Arts Festival at the Bahrain Museum
Invaded by the Portuguese in 1521, the Bahrain Fort is set to be taken over once again this month, but this time by a bunch of people with a mission of peace: to bring art to the people. From May 13-16, grassroots arts group Elham is staging an experimental arts festival in collaboration with the Qala’at Al Bahrain that aims to get the crowds involved, rather than watching from the sidelines, via exhibitions, readings, screenings, music and workshops. ‘The event embodies the spirit of Elham in that it celebrates the creative diversity in Bahrain and involves everyone,’ says Elham founding member Ali Al Saeed, who is behind the festival, along with several other people with a passion for the arts.
‘Since Elham’s inception in 2006, we've showcased the work of numerous artists, and it’s become clear that there’s a lot of talent on this island,’ adds Arthur D'Souza, another of the principal organisers. ‘The aim of the festival is to bring this talent to the greater public, while making the arts more accessible and engaging. We’re excited to be having it at the brilliantly appointed new Fort Museum, set beside the sea with a spacious café and lecture rooms for the various satellite events.’ The festival’s experimental nature makes it a first for Bahrain, and we're watching with interest to see if the public gets down and creative.
The festival kicks off on May 13 with the opening of a group exhibition featuring works by Waheeda Mallulah, Arthur D’Souza, Fawaz Alolaiwat, Mariam Haji, Khalid Farhan and Serena Stevens, while the whole fort will become a temporary gallery space displaying the works of various members of Elham, from sculpture to photography. Festival attendees will also have the opportunity to watch a work of art emerge over the course of the weekend, as a variety of artists paint on a giant canvas set up beside the sea.
And perhaps the most experimental element of all will be an interactive installation workshop entitled Towerz, led by Irish artist Keith Winter and American artist Steve Mkinteyr of the Cuboid Collective, which will involve the production of a DIY magazine from start to finish, followed by the construction of a ‘skyscraper’ from recycled materials.
Snappers, this is your chance to up your game: on May 15, Lebanese photographer Camille Zakharia will conduct a photography workshop focusing on the works of leading documentary photographers including Eugene Atget, August Sander and Henri Cartier-Bresson, following which participants will be requested to complete an assignment within a 24-hour period.
The results will be screened outdoors at the Fort Museum on May 16, along with a 15-minute photo video entitled ‘Palestine 9 Metres’ by Palestinian documentary photographer Steve Sabella, which presents the daily life of Palestinians and the effects of the separation wall.
Poets Khalid Alroawie, Hameed Al Qaed and Terry Kaliski take the stage on May 14 accompanied by contemporary oud player Hassan Al Hujairi and Nader Ameerudin on guitar. And on May 16, you can settle in with a coffee at the museum’s brand new café and let the words of a few of the country’s resident authors wash over you, including Bahrain's Ali Al Saeed and British writers Terry Kaliski and Julia Stuart (who talks about how she writes in our Books section this month). The writers will also answer your questions and chat informally about the creative writing process, as well as sign copies of their books.
On May 15, the National Museum’s Cultural Hall will come alive with the sound of music care of several groups, including American one-man band Cody, bluesy Faisal Sheikh, rising experimental folk star Ala Ghawas, rockers Silverlake, and Latino La Movida (above). One of Bahrain’s most popular bands since its formation in 2000, La Movida will be debuting brand new material at the festival. ‘About 50 to 60 per cent of our performance will be new music,’ says Ahmed Al Qasim, the band’s lead vocalist and bass guitarist. ‘We have always been a live performing band, and audience feedback has always been important to us.
The songs we will perform at the concert will go on our debut album, and the audience’s reaction will have an effect on the whole recording process.’
Finally, movie buffs will be pleased with May 14’s line-up of experimental short films, which will be screened under the stars in the museum’s car-park-turned-walk-in cinema. These include two movies by Bahraini filmmakers that debuted at Dubai’s recent Gulf Festival: The Cage by Hussain Al Riffaei, which revolves around a 30-year old man who has locked up his younger sister out of disapproval of a romantic liaison, and The Omen by Mohammed Buali about a family member’s return home after a long absence.
And if this has got you all fired up to create your own screen magic, there’s a film-making lecture on May 16 conducted by highly respected Bahraini filmmaker Bassam Al Thawadhi, who has produced a number of feature films, including Al Hajiz (The Barrier) and A Bahraini Tale, along with numerous educational and cultural programmes for television. The lecture will focus on production and cinematography in particular.
All events except where otherwise stated will take place at the Qal’at Al Bahrain Museum. Wednesday, May 13 8pm Opening of festival and main exhibition (venue tbc).
Thursday, May 14 9am-4pm Speed Towerz performance art workshop led by Keith Winter, Steve Mkinteyr and Mariam Haji.
3pm-9pm Live Art 09 (live painting by various artists).
7pm-8pm Poetry recital with acoustic music.
8pm-9.30pm Open-air screening of short movies.
Friday, May 15 9am-4pm Speed Towerz continues.
10am-1pm Photography lecture by Camille Zakharia.
6pm-7pm Art Talk (venue tbc).
8pm-10.30pm Concert by local bands at the Cultural Hall, National Museum.
Saturday, May 16 10am-1pm Filmmaking workshop led by Bassam Al Thawadi.
11am-4pm Speed Towerz finale. 3pm-7pm Live Art 09 (artists reveal the completed artwork).
4.30pm-6pm Book reading and signing by resident authors.
6pm-7pm Photography screening.
8pm Closing reception.
From May 13-16 at the Qal’at Al Bahrain Museum, Karbabad. All activities are free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.elhambahrain.net. To book for workshops, email email@example.com or call 36 621 223.