Visible Differences at Bahrain National Museum

Visiting exhibition brings together the work of 20 women artists

The visiting exhibition at Bahrain National Museum, ‘Visible Differences’, encapsulates 20 women’s works from Latin America to the Middle East. We took a look to find out more.

Emblazoned in glittering gold letters across one of the walls in the exhibition is a verse by Persian poet Rumi. ‘I am not of the earth, not of water, not of air, not of fire. My place is placeless, my trace is traceless, no body, no soul, I am from the soul of souls beyond ‘he’ and ‘he is’ I know no other.’ Spanish artist Alfia Leiva put it there, alongside her intricate bronze sculptures, depicting three real women’s hands holding a fig – the symbol of femininity in Mexico.

Alfia, along with 19 other women from Latin America, Jordan and Bahrain are involved in ‘Visible Differences’, an exhibition which was initially conceived in Valencia, Spain. Shouq Al Alawi, a curator at the museums directorate in the Ministry of Culture, explains, ‘the curator had gathered the work of ten Latin American female artists [aiming to] represent the issues of women in the modern day. The exhibition then moved to Jordan where eight other female Jordanian artists joined the group and it was very interesting to see that from countries both sides of the Mediterranean the problems and issues are the same. It’s just a matter of representation.’

From Jordan, Bahrain’s Ministry of Culture, in collaboration with the Royal Society of Fine Arts and the Provincial Council of Valencia, moved the exhibition to the Bahrain National Museum where two Bahraini artists – Balqees Fakhro and Hala Al Khalifa – were also asked to contribute.

Balqees, a prominent artist in Bahrain since the 1970s, has used mixed media to create textured, balanced abstract pieces that evoke a sense of tranquility through blues and browns. In the exhibition catalogue, Balqees writes, ‘My work reflects human experience, imperfection, mystery and spirituality.’

Hala Al Khalifa’s pieces on the other hand are far more aggressive through the use of red, black and white, and yet the works remain subtle in their message. ‘Hala represents her internal struggles in a very beautiful way,’ Shouq comments, ‘You wouldn’t even notice that that’s what it’s about.’

From corner to corner, the exhibition, which is spread across two floors, reveals the artists’ innermost thoughts and concerns. Clara Amaro is a Spanish artist who used to live in Jordan and is the tie between both sides of the exhibition. She’s contributed ‘Poems on my skin’, a series of body sculptures that are painted in various colours and scribbled with words reflecting experiences that have left a mark on her.

Elsewhere, Brazilian Carolina Caliento has manipulated press clippings to create montages of destructive, almost apocalyptic scenes reflecting her concerns of an increasingly urban and globalised society inundated with information.

Mostly, the onlooker is taken through the personal experiences or emotions of each individual woman and artist, and very few pieces deal directly with feminism. One interesting work that does, however, is by Claudia Casarino. ‘Dream Disorder’ sees a series of nightgowns hanging from the ceiling with overlapping pieces in different colours ranging from white to blood red, reflecting flesh that becomes more raw. Beside it, is a series of photographs called ‘Inside the house’ also by Claudia that shows a woman doing house work in a beautiful lemon dress, seemingly confronting the notion that women must always look their best.

Despite the nod to feminism and womanliness, somewhat ironically, the exhibition has been curated by two men, Spaniard Amador Griñó and Jordanian Dr Khalid Khreis. Dr Khalid, who is the general director of Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts where the second exhibition was held, tells us that the inspiration wasn’t specifically about gender. ‘Art is done by human beings regardless [of whether they’re] male or female,’ he explains. ‘The reason here is to represent issues that sometimes men can’t express and at the same time show the different ways of expression between all the women participating. Maybe if it was curated by two women the result would be the same.’

Ideally, Dr Khalid would like to see this exhibition travel even further, roaming the world and collecting more and more artists of different backgrounds and nationalities. By bringing it to Jordan, he hoped to introduce new artists and artworks to the local public. ‘Because without art, humanity loses its soul. Art not only closes the gap between peoples, it also opens our minds and hearts to receive the ‘other’ with acceptance, sympathy and love.’

‘Visible Differences’ is showing until August 31. Open daily 8am-8pm. Bahrain National Museum, Al Fateh Highway (1729 8718).

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