Bahrain Art Week: the Middle East and Contemporary Art

A region not historically known for its contemporary art, the Gulf States have endeavoured, quite successfully, to make a name for themselves in the past few years. The opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi last year is one prominent example, but countless smaller-scale initiatives show that the Gulf demands a spot on the international art stage. One of these initiatives is the Bahrain Art Week, which took place for the third time this year, from the 21st until the 28th of November. During the week, a series of talks, performances and debates were held to explore the issues surrounding the value and role of arts in Bahrain and the Middle East more widely.

This year, CUB visited Alon Zakaim Fine Arts, one of the galleries participating in the project. Tucked away between the business of Bond Street and the fanciness of Mayfair, Alon Zakaim is not easy to find, but definitely worth it. Accumulation: Legacy and Memory Bahrain Art Week brings together eleven Bahraini artists who play with different mediums to convey their message. Featuring anything and everything, ranging from film to sculpture, architecture to paintings, and pop art to traditional art forms, the tastefully curated exhibition spreads across the gallery’s two floors and immerses the visitor into its confrontational yet calming atmosphere.

The effects of accelerated change or progress on society are the focal point of the exhibition, which revolves around subjective experience, memory, legacy and the inevitability of decay. The works reflect the process of growth, change and development of Bahraini society as well as the influence, good and bad, of the oil industry on ancient civilisations as well as modern urban centres. As such, the works of Hala Kaiksow for example, who was recently nominated for the prestigious Jameel Prize, feature traditional weaving methods and are showcased alongside Ali Karimi, who explores the architectural history of Bahrain, considering modernism in social housing and the public space in Bahrain.

The first major art movement in Bahrain emerged in the 1950s, and the kingdom has since been nurturing homegrown talent to establish a thriving, eclectic art market that’s gaining increasing international recognition. Originally a celebration for the 200th anniversary of UK/Bahraini relations, supported by a royal visit to Bahrain by HRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the first edition of Bahrain Art Week in London took place in 2016. It has now grown into a city-wide project, with galleries and museums from Shoreditch to Mayfair participating.

Celebrating Bahrain’s history as one of the oldest contemporary cultures in the Middle East, Bahrain Art Week provides a platform for Bahraini artists to expand their international influence through London’s vibrant art scene and to encourage creative links and dialogue between Bahrain and the UK.  Artists get a chance to showcase their work before the Art Bahrain Across Borders 2019 Fair, which takes place in March and tries to attract as many international galleries as possible to the Kingdom of Bahrain. The ArtBAB initiative takes the art of the artists of Bahrain across borders around the world. Strengthening Bahrain’s position in the Gulf as a regional arts hub, ArtBAB aims to inspire entrepreneurship, art education and development of local skills. With this initiative, it seems like it is succeeding in that mission.

Alon Zakaim Fine Art 

5-7 Dover St. London W1S 4LD

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