PM Prince Khalifa inaugurating the Fine Arts exhibition Image Credit: BNA

Manama: Bahraini artist Nader Al Abassi recalls how proud he feels as he stands next to his three paintings at the Bahrain Fine Arts Exhibition.

He won last month the top prize at the 43rd edition of the art exhibition held at the iconic Bahrain National Museum overlooking the limpid waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Although as a well-established artist he has participated in numerous exhibitions and displayed his exquisite paintings in several halls, winning the top prize at the Bahrain Fine Arts Exhibition had a special significance for him.

The exhibition brought together many renowned artists with their 238 art works, which greatly accentuated the standards of competition. As the judges were not local, it assured more neutrality in their selection of winners.

Nader opted for avoiding a repeat of any of his past works and he took a new approach.

“My experience this year was somewhat different and the theme I selected touched on the family and family relationships,” he said. “These are sacred themes and sacred bonds and I had prepared several paintings related to the sanctity of the family. I put on show only three paintings as stipulated by the competition rules, but I will display all paintings at my solo exhibition that I will hold very soon.”

Nader said that artists in Bahrain are fortunate for the support they have been receiving at several levels.

“This exhibition is a quantum leap forward to help boost the arts in Bahrain and the region. There are great efforts being exerted to ensure the success of art exhibitions and the Bahrain Fine Arts Exhibition has taken a positive step by offering the opportunity to a large number of artists to take part in it. It offered everyone various perspectives and greater insights into the world of creative art.”

Unlike other countries in the region, Bahrain has been a fertile ground for arts and creativity.

In his remarks as he opened the 43rd Bahrain Fine Arts Exhibition, Prime Minister Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa said that Bahrain fully supported arts and creativity “based on our recognition of the significance of elevating standards of good taste and contributing to educating the young generation to renounce all forms of ugliness and distortion.”

“Bahraini artists possess high creativity potential and have been able to enrich the nation’s art scene with pieces of work that will bear witness to the deep and rich civilisation of our country,” he said on January 17.

“The noble message of art has a significant impact on improving public taste and focusing on all the aspects of beauty and splendour in every area.”

For Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammad Al Khalifa, the president of Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, arts and culture elevate communities and promote the civilisational and cultural legacy and heritage of the nation.

“Artists in Bahrain, be they Bahraini citizens or expatriates, are so passionate about art because it is a common language that goes well beyond divisions and divergences and brings them all together to celebrate their passion and works,” she said.

A fervent supporter of art, Shaikha Mai is often seen at the opening of painting and sculpture exhibitions, showering artists with support and uttering words of praise.

Her attitude is highly appreciated in Bahrain, a country known for its openness that has regularly hosted exhibitions that vibrantly reflected the various schools in arts.

“The support that artists have been enjoying has led to the development of the art scene in Bahrain,” honorary president of the Bahrain Fine Arts Society, Shaikh Rashid bin Khalifa said. “Artists in Bahrain have great opportunities to unleash their creativity and their skills.”

Apart from the official support, several privately-owned galleries have been offering a rich milieu to artists, well-established and burgeoning, well-known and still aspiring, to display their works and share their perspectives.

And artists do not hesitate to seize the opportunities offered by galleries and art lounges like Albareh Gallery, Al Riwaq Gallery, Nadine Gallery, Ella Art Gallery, Rashid Al Oraifi Gallery, Arabesque Art Gallery, the Bahrain Arts Society, Matar House, l’Atelier, and La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art, to showcase their boldness and highlight their creativity.

“Bahrain has a strong history in the visual arts and continues to produce distinguished artists with each succeeding generation. Our objective is to participate in the cultural promotion and to develop fine arts in Bahrain and the region, and to take the artists into a new dimension throughout the world by participating intensively in local and international arts events,” Nadine Al Shaikh said, referring to the objectives of the gallery that bears her name. “We hold selective art exhibitions, workshops, lectures, and other cultural events. Although our members are selected talented artists from the region, our doors are open for all art lovers.”

In its laudable attempt to promote women artists in Bahrain, Nadine Gallery launched the Bahraini Female Artists Annual Exhibition. Last year, the fourth edition of the annual event was held amid grand support from the local authorities.

“We simply wanted to bring them to a wider audience by exhibiting their works alongside established artists. We have widened our scope and linked with like-minded institutions, which are committed to a professional approach to art and to fostering cultural diversity and exchange.”

Leena Al Ayoobi was among the 35 Bahraini artists who displayed their works of their art at the exhibition in 2015. Her smiling face, easy approach and captivating work made her stand out even though she had been showcasing her paintings for just one year.

For the young artist, painting has never been a mere hobby or a simple activity that could be taken lightly. To her, it has always been a unique source of inspiration. A deep therapy for stress. A great sense of wonder. A beautiful way of life.

So when at one stage of her life, she felt stress was ominously affecting her, she dashed to her highly cherished painting tools and happily resumed her favourite activity following a short hiatus.

“I took up drawing during my early childhood, but once I started my professional career, I stopped,” she said. “Later, when work was becoming more and more stressful, art found its way back in to my life. It was the therapy I needed to stress out and relax, feeling at ease with everything around me and flowing my inner feelings to painting.”

Her art style is a mix of Japanese manga with a folkloric twist.

“I have been drawing since an early age, mainly female characters from children’s translated TV shows, the Hayao Miyazaki shows in particular.”

A major breakthrough in her young life occurred in 2014 when she made her debut in showcasing her artwork to the public in exhibitions.

“It was a highly significant moment for me and I was truly elated to see people show interest in my work. The new experience was a wonderful motivation for me to expand further in exploring art. Today, many international art lovers and collectors have bought my artwork. It was superb for my self-gratification but also for my status as a Bahraini artist who could showcase the exceptionally rich culture of Bahrain to the world and reach out the largest number of people.”

Leena said she was not going to allow herself to fall into self-complacency and stressed she was keen on building on her successes.

“I have many plans for this year and I look forward to living through vibrant and successful times. I have plans to hold my first solo to be hosted this September in Dubai. I will also take part in exhibitions in Bahrain and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries. I am also working on new paintings with a message that will be different from my current collection. I will reveal them later this year.”

Ahead of all these plans, Leena is organising within two weeks a GCC-wide art forum with a local gallery in Muharraq, Bahrain’s second largest city.

“We will host artists from all the GCC countries for live painting and an exhibition and everything will be posted live on Instagram,” she said, driving home the message that social media platforms should be used to promote art in the region and empower artists to share their pieces of art.