Bahrain Art Week @ Asia House

I have always believed that art is a powerful tool of communication. Although it is often audibly silent, the visual nature of art has the ability to speak volumes in ways the written or spoken word cannot. The opening reception to Bahrain Art Week began with a panel discussion that included a former British MP who was Secretary of State for Culture as well as two Bahraini artists in a symbolic gesture to reinforce this notion.

John Wittingdale OBE, was joined by artist Lulwa Al Khalifa, designer Nada Alawi and British art writer and curator Alistair Hicks to celebrate the opening of Bahrain Art Week in London, which opened on the 200th anniversary of the signing of the first treaty between Bahrain and the UK. While of course, I will speak about the artwork, this discussion struck me as incredibly important. Having John Wittingdale present was of immense value. Nada Alawi, the founder of luxury lifestyle brand Annada, which puts Bahraini artwork onto accessories, said that ‘people respond to art because they need to be motivated by beauty.’ In our current political climate where the news seems to constantly be full of war, misery and uncertainty, this statement reinforces my personal view that contemporary art has the potential to comment and question the world around us. Moreover, in a Britain that is soon to leave the European Union, the gesture of the inclusion of political heavyweights is a symbolic move to show that the United Kingdom is open to discourse that goes beyond Europe and very much into the Middle East.

The exhibition of artwork on show at Bahrain Art Week is incredibly light. A friend of mine who invited me to the show also commented that the display felt a lot brighter and less heavy than previous displays of contemporary Arabian art in London. On show is the artwork of 18 Bahraini artists that draw the viewer in with its openness. It also seemed noteworthy to me that the majority of the artists appeared to be women.

Of the most memorable work on display were the beautiful pink, gold and black canvases of Zakeya Zada. Soft pinks and shimmering gold figures walk along dark black outlines of Bahraini streets. Zada told me that the images show women in Bahrain stopping in the street to talk to each other. She explained to me that Bahrain is famous for its gold and that it is the tradition for brides to be gifted with gold jewellery and belts on their wedding day. Her characters show a cosmopolitan nation, populated by women floating around streets of gold.

I was also extremely taken by Lulwa Al Khalifa’s paintings of winged horses. The two large canvases are displayed side by side as though they could be a diptych. They seem to be running off the walls and are almost begging to be touched, but of course, we must settle for their two-dimensional representation in paint.  The Arabian horse is also seen in a beautiful bronze green creation of Jamal Abdulrahim, who is most famous for his print-making, however, his sculptural work on show here is striking.

I also believe that the presence of Nada Alawi’s Annada accessories is incredibly important. As the designer reinforced during the panel discussion, bringing art into fashion opens up the work to a new audience. As it has already been stated, the communicative abilities of visual art are vast. Unfortunately however, the art world audience is often limited to a select few. Perhaps this is why the display at Asia House is so important, it transports a stunning display of art from Bahrain to London to bring a beautiful and important exhibition to an international public.

Be Bahrain Exhibition is on display at Asia House as part of Bahrain Art week until 21st December

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She is the founder of Gallery Girl - a London-based curatorial platform and website dedicated to modern and contemporary art from across the globe. Her work is primarily focused on supporting emerging female artists from the Middle East and the Caucasus. She has written for Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, Suitcase and Vice Arabia among other publications. Her exhibitions in London and Armenia have been featured in Vogue Arabia, The Art Newspaper, The Art Gorgeous and numerous other news outlets. Gallery Girl has also spoken in the UK, UAE and Belgium about the contemporary art scene in the MENA region, and is planning further events in London and Amman.

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