Breast cancer art in Bahrain

Seana Mercedes Mallen celebrates women with her art

Breast cancer art in Bahrain
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Your exhibition is called ‘In Celebration of Women’ – what can you tell us about it, and why did you decide on this theme?
In my very first drawing class when I was 18, we drew models from life, and they were always women. That planted a seed that is still growing today. When I was asked to exhibit work at World Beat, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to do a show based on these drawings, and I specifically requested the month of October to support Breast Cancer Month. Both my mother and sister survived breast cancer, so it is a subject close to my heart. In this show, I’m not trying to congratulate the individuals that are depicted, but through the more abstract elements of colour and line to capture something of the inner beauty and strength that women share.

How many pieces are you exhibiting in the show?
I want all the work in the show to be new, and I haven’t done them all yet! But I think about 12 pieces will show well in this lovely bright space. All the work is based on my friends and family, but none of them is a portrait. I am trying to reach something deeper and more universal. For many years I was a portrait painter, and I want this show to be very different from that, and indeed very different from anything I have done before. Wish me luck!

What can you tell us about the models you have drawn?
My daughter, Lucy, embodies a very young joie de vivre that I love. My friend, Fran Stafford, who is now curator at Al Riwaq, is the model for a number of these paintings. I think because she is an artist herself, she really knows how to pose and is lovely to draw. Debbie Al Asfoor is a dancer and karate blackbelt, and exudes energy and strength. My Kenyan friend, Mercy, is curvacious and womanly, and has crazy hair that is a joy to draw, and so on.

And the pieces are said to be life drawing with watercolour – is there something about the medium that helps to relay your overall theme?
Watercolour is very immediate, bright and loose. My challenge is to keep those qualities in a much larger painting on canvas, and it is proving very tricky.

You have focused on lots of different qualities – strength, resilience, joy. All very positive. Is that the overall message?
Yes, without doubt.

Tell us about your time in Bahrain – have you had other exhibitions? And how often do you teach art?
I’ve been in Bahrain for six years now, and the time has flown by. Bahrain is a wonderful place to be an artist. I have shown my work in numerous exhibitions, including Albareh Gallery, the Crowne Plaza twice, and in three shows at the Bahrain Art Centre. I also initiated the Bahrain ‘Open Studios’, which was run superbly by the Culture Vultures for two years. I teach several times a week at Bahrain Polytechnic, Studio Ceramics and in my home. I love it!

Have you always wanted to be an artist? Tell us about life before Bahrain.
When I went to university, it was to study archaeology. From the time I was about six I was sure I wanted to be an archaeologist. But I took a life drawing class in my first term at uni and it changed my life.

Is there anything about the kingdom that inspires you? Has living in a multi-cultural community influenced you?
I am very inspired by travel, and Bahrain is perfectly located for exploring the area. I have travelled to India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Jordan, Oman, Egypt – and I always take my camera and sketchbook. I am primarily inspired by colour, and though I love living in Bahrain, it is not a place full of vibrant colour, so it is good to explore.

How would you advise people to approach your work, and what do you hope they take away?
Approach with a generous spirit. I am trying to paint in a way that is outside my comfort zone, and it is something I am still experimenting with. But I hope that people take away a warm feeling about the strength, beauty, energy and joy of the amazing women in their lives. I salute them.

In Celebration of Women opens at World Beat Café (17 612 576) on Saturday, October 8 at 4pm. The exhibition will then run until November 10, with the café opening hours from 8am-1pm and 4pm-8pm.

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