ArtBAB Edition 4 which takes from March 6 to 10 is one of the regions best established art fairs. It is held under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Sabika bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa. It was officially inaugurated by HRH the Crown Prince and First Deputy Premier, Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Artlyst talks to fair Director Kaneka Subberwal the mastermind behind it all, she conceived the idea and curated the fair.
AL. The fair has developed so much since it started. What are your plans for next year?
Kaneka: In 2019, ArtBAB Edition 4 will take place from March 6 to 10. Each year, ArtBAB – Art Bahrain Across Borders – is built around a central theme. Last year it was education – this year it is ‘Legacies’. And what a legacy of art Bahrain has to showcase! Bahraini art traditions that date back 5,000 years to the Dilmunic era are still manifested now in the crafts heritage of Bahrain. They provide a great intellectual backdrop to the evolution of Bahraini art. So, quite organically, we shall be celebrating Bahrain’s traditional crafts with our programme ‘Artisans Across Borders’. It is a showcase that will see Bahraini craftspeople transform their traditional skills with inputs from style and fashion icon JJ Valaya and come up with a contemporary and chic new design for traditional crafts without losing the soul, the history and appeal that they represent.
AL. Can you give us some insight into the emerging artist selections for ArtBAB 2019? Any surprises?
Kaneka: We will have the list by November and we will certainly share them.
AL. Is there going to be more of a theme this year? Has any of the programme been finalised?
Kaneka: Please see my answer to Q1 and reference to Artisans Across Borders
AL. You’re working on projects in London and Paris this year, tell us about them?
Kaneka: One of the critical objectives of Artists Across Borders, is to introduce the sophisticated depth and sparkling techniques of contemporary Bahraini artists to the world. We began in 2015 at London’s V&A, and the programme has included such prestigious places as the Saatchi Gallery and Lancaster House. In India, we held a show in Bikaner House and Mumbai at the Bombay Arts Society. Bahraini artists also sold to collectors at the India Art Fair, one of the biggest international fairs in India.
This year the focus is very much on Europe, and we begin our journey with the ‘Bahrain Art Week’ in Paris. 17 Bahraini artists will take part in a private exhibition which is built around the theme ‘Legacies’ – a thread that runs through all our work including ArtBAB 2019 in March next year.
The ‘Bahrain Art Week’ in Paris has been jointly curated by me and by the wonderful and knowledgeable Corrine Timset, co-founder and chief editor of Art Premium in Paris. The exhibition will open with a private VIP opening and then move for a two-week stint to the Gallery Rabaouan Moussion.
As for London, the third edition of ‘Bahrain Art Week in London’ is scheduled for November 2018. I will jointly curate it in partnership with Amal Khalaf, a Bahraini artist, researcher and curator who is currently Projects Curator at the Serpentine Gallery as well as Commissioning Editor (Projects) at Ibraaz Publishing.
The show will open at the Alon Zakaim Fine Art and will be followed by a series of events.
AL. Is the master plan to make the Bahrain art scene far more international?
Kaneka: The contemporary art scene in Bahrain is already well-known and has a rich and productive history going back nearly five decades. Bahraini artist Rashid Al-Oraifi was famed in the MENA region for his creation of the Dilmun School of Painting, his ability to seamlessly bring his passion for the 5,000-year-old legends and folklore of Bahrain into his contemporary work.
With this treasure of Bahraini talent and art, I felt that the time had come to expand the audience into a global circle and so the ArtBAB idea was born. Is our goal to make Bahraini art more international? Not really, if that means introducing other influences to the artists. Today, most Bahraini artists are academically exposed to all art conversations around the world and can hold their own with peers from anywhere. I would say that the master plan of ArtBAB is to continue the dialogue between Bahraini and international artists and build on the conversation to identify and establish Bahrain as a fostering creative economy.
AL. What made you first decide to start an art fair in Bahrain?
Kaneka: This is a story that I never tire of sharing. In 2008, I came to Bahrain to hold my first art exhibition, and it would be no exaggeration to say that it was love at first sight with this harmonious and artistically exciting country. I held a couple of more stand-alone exhibitions that brought some of the greatest canvases from around the world to Bahrain.
As I made friends with Bahrain’s thriving art circle and saw the talented contemporary art scene here, the feeling grew that here was a movement that should be shared globally and not be restricted to the region alone. Bahrain did not have a structured platform to showcase its contemporary artists and start a sustained conversation with the world. I do believe strongly that an artist values commercial security as much as artistic integrity and felt that a dedicated art fair taking Bahraini art to the world was essential to nurture new talent, develop exposure for established artists and build the Bahraini art brand.
I was very fortunate to share my vision with Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa, Chairman of Tamkeen, Bahrain’s change-management and HR Development agency. He saw the potential of such a movement and Tamkeen came on board as our Strategic Partner to support the branding and exposure of Bahraini artists.
Art Bahrain Across Borders – ArtBAB – is an art fair with a very different growth trajectory. Whilst other art fairs aspire to evolve into conversational platforms for the important commercial success of artists and the exploring of art trends, we at ArtBAB have a central goal of promoting Bahraini artists and their art. This means Bahraini artists and art are at the centre of all our activities and have pushed the organic growth of the offshoots of ArtBAB such as the Artists Across Borders project which has taken Bahraini artists to different world art centres to exhibit, work with peers and explore museums and take workshops.
Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than to share that since 2015, when we began our art fair in Bahrain, the value of Bahraini art has gone up by 149% and many established, as well as emerging Bahraini artists, have found a place in collectors’ portfolios around the world.
AL. The fair is under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa. That must be a great honour?
Kaneka: Yes indeed, since Her Royal Highness is a conscious patron of Bahrain’s heritage, this is a very significant honour for us. Her Royal Highness takes a keen personal interest in the progress of the Bahraini artists across the board and is unfailingly supportive of our ideas and growth. On our part, we are deeply conscious of the responsibility her patronage puts on us to live up to our goals and forward the cause of Bahraini art and artists globally.