Somaya Abdulghani was born in Bahrain in 1970 and has since become renowned as a photographer and mixed media artist across the world. In 2015, she was shortlisted for Dubai’s International Emerging Artist Award and has had her work appear in exhibitions from India to Italy. Now, she’s been chosen as one of 17 artists to contribute to one of the largest overseas showcases of Bahraini art the island has ever seen, as part of the new initiative Bahrain Art Across Borders, a project of consultancy firm Art Select and supported by Tamkeen.
Somaya’s work in particular “strives to introduce Islam’s theological and philosophical beauty to her audience”, as can be seen in her selected wallpieces of abstract birds. But many distinctive styles and techniques can be seen among the works of the 16 other chosen artists, who range from veterans of the Bahraini art scene to up-and-comers newly venturing into international events.
For instance, new gallery owner Amina Al Abbasi was chosen for her powerful abstracts inspired by neo-natal scans, using mixed media and gold leaf, while Mayasa Al Sowaidi, a graduate of mathematics from the University of Bahrain, submitted works from her Art of Tea series, all of which are made from used teabags.
The two emerging artists join the likes of the world-renowned Balqees Fakhro, whose abstract paintings have been acquired by museums and collections across the world, from Jordan to Germany. And photographer Ghada Khunji, who has counted Microsoft and Annie Leibovitz among her clients.
It all started when, last month, a nationwide call for submissions sought works in any media or style, inspired by Bahrain’s cultural identity, its land or seascape, its environment or its people.
A panel of judges was then tasked to choose the best this island has to offer. One such judge is Janet Rady, a London gallerist specialising in Middle Eastern and Islamic art. “The main criteria were strength and originality of composition and a sense of Bahraini identity,” she explains.
“I think the selection shows the diversity of artistic practices in Bahrain and the solidity of their artistic traditions.”
Kaneka Subberwal, who is the founder of Art Select, has told Time Out Bahrain in the past of her ambitions to take Bahraini art to the rest of the world. She took this one step further when, last year, she launched ArtBahrain, an annual and now much-anticipated international arts fair that will run again here in October. “This is only a first batch of the great talent that exists on this island,” she says. “We look forward to giving the same opportunity to many more established and emerging artists looking to truly represent Bahrain’s rich artistic culture on a global level.”
But it’s not just about promoting local artists on the world’s stage, says well-known Bahraini artist Omar Al Rashid, who is chosen for his horse collection. “Such cross-cultural artistic events help enrich peoples’ cultures and organising them showcases the advancement of participating countries,” he tells us.
“The public and private sectors should back this unique initiative because artists’ contributions further encourage the discourse and cultural exchange between the East and West,” he adds.
“I hope that we can be worthy representatives of our beloved Kingdom.”
Three more chosen ones
The new artist
Shaikha Marwa Al Khalifa
The up-and-coming artist, who studied under painter Omar Al Rashid, who is also part of this exhibition, has a varied body of work. This includes the eighty light boxes she installed on the curved wall of the reception at Art Rotana in Amwaj Islands and Flowers 3.
This gallery owner, who was a founding member of the Bahrain Art Society, was featured in Time Out Bahrain last month for his Sleeping Cats exhibition. No Lies Only Embellishment, pictured, was part of it and will now run alongside two of the artist’s other new works in London.
Jamal al Rahim
Born in Muharraq, Jamal Al Rahim has been staging solo exhibitions, as a skilled painter, printmaker, and sculptor, across the Middle East and in Europe for the last 20 years. His work features a series of sculptures, including the abstracted figures of birds and animals.