Moscow, Asharq Al-Awsat—Manama, the capital of Arab tourism, enjoys a long cultural reach, which even extends to Russia. Earlier this month, Bahraini Minister of Culture, Sheikha Mai bint Mohammad Al-Khalifa, launched the Contemporary Bahraini Art Exhibition: New Horizons at the Russian Art Academy in Moscow, displaying a vertical cross section of contemporary and historical Bahraini art.
This is the second cultural exhibition that has been organized with the collaboration of the Bahraini Ministry of Culture, Museum of Decorative, Applied, and Folk Arts in Moscow and the National Museum of Bahrain. The exhibition marks the second part of Bahrain’s cultural promotion in Russia following the launch of the ‘Pearls in the Arabian Gulf’ exhibition at the Russian Museum of Decorative, Applied, and Folk Arts in Moscow.
Among the Bahraini artists exhibiting their work are Rashid Al-Khalifa, Abdulrahim Sharif, Khalil Al Hashimi, Balqees Fakhro, and Ahmed Baqer. Works on show include contemporary and modernism paintings, installations, and sculptures. More than 20 artworks are being exhibited, some of which are being loaned by the National Museum of Bahrain, others on loan from the artists’ own collection. The variety of exhibits on show in Moscow highlights the diversity and splendor of Bahraini art, granting visitors a broad overview of the contemporary Bahraini art scene.
The works on show also provide insights into Bahraini culture and history, including some paintings of real world historic events. While other works of art are more abstract, representing memories or ideas.
Rashid Al Khalifa is one of Bahrain’s most prominent and influential artists, developing his unique work and artistic style over the past 40 years. Al Khalifa is one of the earliest Bahraini experimentalists, and his artistic output includes a progressive aesthetic influenced by Western painting. His ground-breaking “Convex” style pushed—painting onto specially-prepared convex canvases—provided a unique style that allows Khalifa’s painting to be seen in a “different light,” as he puts it.
“I express my feelings in the colors I use on forms and shapes based on my recollections on the seasons in life that has passed; times of laughter and embrace, mourning and sorrow, success and failure,” Khalifa said in an artistic statement published on his website.
“Once the viewer is face to face with the artwork, it breaks down the barriers; it becomes a journeying encounter like a free-flowing sense of interaction—a glance of the real, a starting point, waiting to be followed through, allowing the viewer to do the completing, the reflection of self,” he added.
As for Abdulrahim Sharif, he has been lauded as one of Bahrain’s foremost artists, while his paintings deal with such themes as alienation, indifference, hardship, and introversion. His works have been exhibited across the world, including New York and Paris, while he is also a founding member of the Bahrain Arts Society.
Speaking at a previous exhibit, Sharif said: “Working for nearly 40 years as a professional artist, my research on the subject of immortality in art, drew me to three important elements of creation; behavior, pulse, and entity. The combination of these elements became the point of the birth and rebirth of the soul of my paintings in multiple layers of voice and gesture.”
Khalil Al-Hashimi is not a painter but a sculptor, with the New Horizons exhibition saying that his sculptures are defined by elegance and restraint that honors Russian academics, adding that they are infused with contemporary ideas and aesthetic impact. Hashimi’s work is inspired by reflective thoughts bearing traces of his Bahraini territory and heritage in wood, marble, and metal.
Balqees Fakhro is an abstract painter whose artworks lean heavily on Arab culture, she has taken part in the annual national arts exhibition every year since 1976, winning the first place Dana Award in 1999 and 2002.
As for her painting style, she said: “My paintings revolve around the themes of belonging and memories of places. Through my abstract style, my paintings show a mystery of a place belonging to a very basic form of living, such as the caves and tents of our ancestors,” adding, “I like to show the high contrast between light and dark, and as a technique, I like to use texture to give it more complexity. My monochrome color scheme gives my paintings a dream-like quality, and a sense of vagueness. This allows the viewer to interpret the painting and make sense of it according to his or her own background.”
Finally, a number of Ahmed Baqer’s pencil drawings are also on display in Moscow. The Bahraini artist’s intricate and delicate drawings conjure figures in motion, horses and men, against the tonal variation of interwoven lines composed of tiny motifs repeated over and over again.
This cultural exchange between Manama and Moscow, with Bahrain’s leading artists showcasing their work in Russia’s most celebrated art gallery, represents an excellent example of the rich heritage of the East being presented to western audiences. Bahrain’s art scene has undergone considerable change in modern times, with artists sampling new unconventional and unexpected influences, in turn coming up with a new fusion style.
The ‘Pearls in the Arabian Gulf’ exhibition had previously been launched by Sheikha Mai bint Mohamed Al-Khalifa at the Russian Museum of Decorative, Applied and Folk Arts, Moscow. The exhibition was launched to celebrate Manama being chosen as the Capital of Arab Tourism 2013, and represented the first cultural collaboration between Russia and Bahrain. The exhibition intends to showcase Bahraini traditional culture to Russian audiences, including exhibiting priceless artifacts, as well as renditions of traditional Bahraini music.
Contemporary Bahraini Art Exhibition: New Horizons, at the Russian Art Academy in Moscow from 17 September – 15 October 2013.