In Conversation With: ArtBAB Fair And Programme Director Kanika Subberwal

Art Bahrain Across Borders 2018
Kanika Subberwal, ArtBAB fair and programme director
We speak with the woman fronting Art Bahrain Across Borders 2018 about the promising third edition of the event running this week and why education lies at its core

Harper's Bazaar Art: What makes Bahrain a centre for art and culture in the Middle East?

Kanika Subberwal: Art is not new to Bahrain and dates back to generations. In fact, the Bahrain Annual Fine Arts exhibition just completed its 44th edition this month, cementing the country’s position as an artistic nerve centre. This is further reflected in the plethora of artists and artistic forms emerging from Bahrain, defining its legacy, history and future potential.

HBA: What is your vision for the fair?

KS: Art Bahrain Across Borders (ArtBAB), the dual vertical programme, was conceived with a spirit for collaboration, connection, education and strengthening the creative economy, while our artists programme takes our talent across borders. The fair is a universal platform aimed at connecting artists, gallerists and institutions, in order to collaborate on future engagements and platforms. Finally, it involves educating the global community of Bahraini art and artists, as we enlighten ourselves on various levels of form, technique and collection.

Art Bahrain Across Borders 2018

Hassan Al Sari. Untitled. 2017. Mixed media on canvas. 60x60cm. Courtesy of ArtBAB

HBA: Could you explain how you chose the galleries/artists to participate?

KS: The theme of this year’s edition is all about education and collaboration. Our gallery pavilion brings forth 17 contemporary art galleries, yet the diversity in their origin and collections is an education for the audience. The Baab pavilion, which will host 30 Bahraini artists, follows the same thread. The artists were reached out through an open call and then selected by a committee.

And lastly, our special projects, where Paolo Ghezzi from Italy will bring in new forms of technique and artist engagement. Global art initiative Caravan, headed by Paul-Gordon Chandler, will present an exhibition on the famous Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, showcasing over 18 artists from Bahrain and the Middle East, in keeping with the theme of education.

Art Bahrain Across Borders 2018

Amer Alobaidi. The Village. 2007, Different materials and oil on canvas. 140x140cm. Courtesy of ArtBAB

HBA: Why is education the overarching theme of this year’s ArtBAB?

KS: I strongly believe it’s all about the education – the more we learn, the more we grow. Education is the one lateral that has no barrier of age, gender and form, as you can never know enough. Focusing on the region and how there is increased awareness and promotion of the arts, it’s vital that these factors are balanced with gaining an education of where we’re going next, how and why can we better ourselves, maximise output and increase engagement. Education completes the circle and it is what provides a solid foundation for everything.

Art Bahrain Across Borders 2018

 Lobna Al Amin. Untitled. 2017. Mixed media on canvas. 120x145cm. Courtesy of ArtBAB

HBA: How does your interaction with an artist evolve from your initial encounter with their work, to studio visit, and then to a gallery exhibition?

KS: Since I began my journey in 2005 in Dubai, where I ran two galleries and then focused on Asian art, to this day in Bahrain, where we offer an art space and consultancy with representations in Dubai and India, my focus has always been the artists. I have huge respect for galleries across the world and, running one of my own, acknowledge the challenges and effort it takes to maintain a brand of integrity –  I believe that knowing your artist is 75 per cent of the process.

It’s the artist who identified human skillset, which is irreplaceable as there’s only one of him/her – understanding that opens doors to developing, creating and reaching out. Interaction is very important, in fact, our “artists pavilion has been created for that purpose. It’s not a norm but our niche and overall efforts to strengthen that core – the artists.


Art Bahrain Across Borders runs from 14 to 18 March 2018 at the International Exhibition and Convention Centre in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Artbab.com

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Art Bahrain Across Borders 2018
Kanika Subberwal, ArtBAB fair and programme director