The appetite for middle eastern art has spawned a great number of fairs that are finding their way into the crowded international art calendar. But one young regional fair has quickly cemented its position in the global art marketplace with its curation of rich, culturally significant local art. This is Art Bahrain Across Borders (ArtBAB) that has been culling a good mix of regional and international contemporary art galleries from all corners since its launch in 2015. At the fourth edition of the fair that takes place in March next year, participating galleries will meditate on the theme of Legacy.
“Stemming from our theme of education last year, Edition 4 of the fair is all about legacy and how its weave is crafted by our artists and artisans. It also shows how we welcome diversity on our platform,” says Kaneka Subberwal, Fair and Programme Director of ArtBAB. Held under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, an artist herself, ArtBAB Edition 4 is a product of years of fine-tuning ideas to showcase the diversity of Bahraini cultural production.
The focus is on the Kingdom’s rich artistic heritage with an impressive roster of Bahraini artists showcasing their works across various media including painting, sculpture, photography, and installation. The fair will house three sections; the BAAB Pavilion that will host 30 Bahraini artists, each of whom will showcase works centred on the fair’s theme, the International and Local Artists Pavilion, and the Gallery Pavilion featuring a selection of international galleries.
Omar Al Rashid.The Village. 2018. Oil on canvas. 150x200cm.
A curatorial hook of the fair is the Artisans Across Borders programme, launching this year as the Artisanal Room. Indian designer JJ Valaya will hold the reins as creative director of the section, where he’ll put a contemporary spin on traditional Bahraini arts and crafts, including Bani Jamra fabric-weaving, Al Naqda needlework, carpet weaving, gypsum carving, traditional chests with upper nail-work, and pottery. The idea is to preserve and shine the spotlight on the country’s treasure trove of handicrafts, with works on view by artisans from Bahrain’s Capital Mall, Al Jasra Handicrafts Centre, and Crafts Industries Development Centre.
While the initiative crosses off one of the event’s first and biggest goals of promoting local talent, the Talks programme focuses on establishing the fair as a meeting point for global cultural thinkers and tech players. Over 30 speakers from more than 15 countries will participate in the three-day programme, with representation from Asia, North Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. “While the artisanal showcase, which is a first for ArtBAB, is a contemporary symphony of deep-rooted heritage, the Talks programme pairs what was, and what is, with what lies ahead,” comments Subberwal.
Dr Ahmed Abdulla Ahmed. Untitled. 2018. Patina cast bronze with natural walnut wood. 42x26x1.5cm.
The first day of the Talks programme will kick off with a panel discussion between cultural institutions that will examine how they’ve been empowering Arab artists both regionally and internationally. It’ll also question how urban spaces can be transformed into educational and cultural entities in light of the existing ones across the GCC and beyond. On the second day, panellists will survey the topic Art and Islamic Finance in the wake of cryptocurrency, and how it bodes for the art world. Nodding to the global pivot towards virtual reality and artificial intelligence, the third day will bring to light how improvements in technology are changing museum landscapes, and what private and public institutions can do to create immersive experiences through art. Carrying forward the tech trend, ArtBAB Edition 4 will also house a space dedicated to VR and AI.
With its futuristic approach to art but a reverence for traditional crafts, ArtBAB is poised to become one of the most promising fairs to have emerged from the region—one worth a stop on your 2019 global art circuit. ArtBAB Edition 4 will run 7-10 March 2019 at the International Exhibition and Convention Centre in the Kingdom of Bahrain.