Bahrain Art Across Borders—a new initiative created to raise the international profile of contemporary art from Bahrain—celebrated the opening of its inaugural exhibition on Wednesday evening at a launch event hosted by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Lizzie Lloyd of Artnet News reports. Featuring seventeen artists from the small archipelago nation located in the Persian Gulf, the contributors are in various stages of their careers. The show will be on view at Gallery 8 from May 27 to June 4.
Kaneka Subberwal, founder and director of Art Select—an art investing and consultancy firm—said that the initiative is about showing the world that Bahrain has serious artists. “BAAB is a work in progress,” she said. She added that bringing the work to a commercial gallery will “test the sturdiness of it.” For Subberwal, first the initiative needs awareness, then sales. “But for me, if people gravitate towards the work because they connect to it, that's enough.”
The idea for BAAB—a project of Art Select—started out as an art lounge and café in 2009. It then grew into Art Bahrain, an annual art fair, established in 2015. Now it is an annual international exhibition. The initiative seems to be driven by Art Select but is also supported by a semi-government organization that works toward making Bahrain’s private sector a driver of economic growth, called Tamkeen. Subberwal said that she had done events in the region of Bahrain and was struck by the wealth of artists there. “Before seeing the works I would have assumed that because Bahrain is a small Kingdom and people retain their ethnic spirit there would be something like five calligraphers to choose from. But I was surprised to see that there was very cutting edge work.”
For the exhibition, the artists were chosen through an open call by a London gallerist and expert in contemporary Middle Eastern and Islamic art, Janet Rady, and an artist and curator, Aissa Deebi. “We were careful not to judge the work according to Western tastes,” Rady said. “The main criteria were strength and originality of composition and a sense of Bahraini identity being apparent in the work.”
For Subberwal, the success of the initiative will not be measured on this exhibition, but a few years down the road, she hopes that the artists will be more visible. “When people say Bahrain, I’d like their reaction to be, “Oh, they have some interesting artists.”