Saturday, August 28, 2010

First Encounters With Art

My first encounter with art came at an unlikely place and time for me. I was only seven. We were on holiday in France. And I was in this humongous old building, like a fairytale palace. And a throng of people huddled in front of a wall, with a frame.

I could only see glimpses of it through the crowds. Later, when I asked my mother. She told me that the painting on the wall was called the Mona Lisa. That didn’t make much sense to me; it only freaked me out that the lady in the painting seemed to follow me with her eyes as I moved!

Twenty-three years later, I now realize the significance of that moment. Many people in Bahrain never have such encounter with Art at an early stage. The way society perceives art means that it is mistreated, misinterpreted and misplaced.

There was never any true interaction with art at school and if there was any, it was limited to grade one level of drawing nice pictures of nice houses and happy people. Once you hit puberty, drawing becomes something of a disease rather than a passion. This meant that those who felt this strong, undeniable passion towards art had to find their own way. Many of today’s established and well-known artists were ones who have taken it upon themselves to follow their passion, even when there was little to go by.

During the 1970s and early 80s a new wave of artists began to emerge, some who had the privilege managed to travel to Europe to get their dose of art history and knowledge. It was only in 1986 that the Bahrain Arts Society was formed and the longest running annual art showcase in the region was born (it has been running for 34 years now). It paved the way to this generation of artists to leave their mark and artists such as Abbes Al Mosaic, one of the country’s most prominent and celebrated artists, Rashid Al Oraifi and others, made it happen for themselves.

But since then, it became increasingly difficult for a new generation of artists to make their presence felt, the art movement died down and emerging artists found it more challenging to get their break. Until recently.

Bahrain, even though the first in the Gulf to introduce education, and is to this day considered one of the leaders in the field, still doe not have a certified art and design school. This has contributed in limiting the interest of art education, that combined with the fact that art was never truly seen as a career move. Rather it was always the hobby that can’t be taken up professionally due to various reasons, one being the inability creating a sound and strong financial setup.

The establishment of new art galleries by the late 90s such as Alriwaq Art Gallery and Albareh Art Gallery injected a new shot of energy into the scene. Slowly but steadily, with the exposure of the local community to more international art, it became clear that it was a matter of time until a new movement was born.

Art galleries have over the past few years been more adventurous and daring, attempting to break away from the standard understanding of what art is. Giving opportunities to more conceptual and new artists to showcase their work. And with the establishment of such initiatives as Elham, which I launched in 2006, helped alter the perception of art and triggered a new grassroots movement for emerging artists. The need to reform the art scene was evident, and the desire for change was shared by all parties involved.

Bahrain as a country is known for its diversity. In spite of its small scale, it’s cultural construct is vast. A range of influences from pop culture to contemporary concepts, and from European art and Asian design, can be felt when observing the art that has come out of Bahrain over the past couple of decades. But it got to the point where the influences were more evident that the artist’s unique fingerprint and it seemed that for a while, artists were restricting themselves to certain schools of style – perhaps it was more of a self imposed restraint in consideration of social and cultural boundaries.

It’s almost as if the new generation of artists have finally found the confidence and courage to be themselves, create their own brand of art, and stamp their personal style on the scene. And this can’t be further from the truth for such artists as Mohammed Al Mahdi, who immediately established a name for him self by winning the country’s prestigious annual art award. Bahraini young artist Waheeda Mallullah is another example. The conceptual artist is fearless when it comes to expressing her ideas and conveying them to the public and her experimental attitude brings a fresh prospective to the table.

The timing couldn’t be more appropriate, as the eyes of the world is now more and more turning towards the Gulf region, it’s art is what will paint a brighter and honest portray of it. Specifically in Bahrain, a country that in spite of its limited resources, has always managed to produce a pool or talented artists who are not shy of challenging perceptions, and stereotypes, with conviction.

*this essay first appeared in the Across The Gulf book.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You Is The Howlin’ Wolf

Howl for me

Howl for me my baby

Get down and dirty with me

Moan like a crying wolf

Spread your dirty evil on me

Soak the sheets with your sweet sweat

Baby make me beg for more

Make me grovel and groan

It ain’t worth a dime if I ain’t got the time

To watch you bend and curve snake-like

Then howl for me baby,

Howl down and dirty

Touch me where you don’t touch them other guys

They was as pure as rain falls

Until they heard your howl

Make’em grovel and groan

It ain’t worth a dime, I say

It ain’t worth a dime

If you don’t take your sweet sweet time

Getting’ down and dirty with me baby

Saturday, August 14, 2010

On the Strangness of Life

Life sure is strange. You can never get what you really want from it, or figure out what it wants from you! It’s just a whole mess. Day after day. Day in day out. Comes and goes. Passes and ticks by. And you haven’t a clue what’s going on. You just ride the wave. Go with the flow. Events and decisions (not all yours, matter of fact most of them aren’t yours) and other people, that’s what makes up your life. It all comes together and produces this mixture, sometimes colorful sometimes colorless, but either way you accept it and learn to live with it. Or just let it be. Sit tight and watch it manipulate your life, your mind, your time. Some might call that fate.

Do you know how many times I’ve been carried off the playground at school? Seems that I always get knocked pretty bad, been happening all my life. Sometimes I'd be crying as some classmates pick me up and take me to the principal’s office, and I would sit and wait for mother to come for me. All dirty and sweaty and eyes filled with tears. No matter how many times I got hurt playing, mother always had that same concerned look on her face when she found me.

I’m just waiting. I’m letting the decisions be made for me. I’m running along. That’s what I always did all my life. It’s never up to me alone to decide what to do; actually no one can make a decision solely on their own.

There are always powers and sources interfering, guiding or leading you to make a decision. You’re never in control of your own life. It’s not your life alone, no matter how much you think it is. People and events around us make up our lives, without them we have nothing. Things will always happen in the end. Its the choices you make on the impulses you get in one particular event resulted by a decision that would draw up your recent future till the next decision is made up for you. And then you’re faced with another set of choices, and even then it’s not entirely your choice to go for whichever choice you tell yourself so hard to believe that is right. Tomorrow is just another day, just like today was just another day. Sometimes I feel like there is no past and no future. There is only present. There is only now. So that days aren’t bulks of time anymore, they are just symbols of something, some place, to be in. We don’t move forward. Days, they come to us. We stand still. We wait.

I remember my granddad (from my mum's side) he used to make us laugh so hard, he'd jut out his denture and start clattering them against each other and make these funny noises with them... or he'd take them off and give us this huge toothless smile! It was silly but when you're little anything like that makes you laugh. When he died, I remember how bad mother took it. She was very close to him. And somehow he used to hold the whole family together (after he was gone everybody get further apart and lost contact). Everybody loved him, he was such a character.

Funny all the time, even at the worst moments and situations. I remember that night I heard he had died, I sneaked to the back of the house and started crying silently, alone. I don't know. I just didn’t want anyone to see me cry, for some reason. I missed him that night more than I did afterward. I used to keep his thick black sunshades and his old, rusted ring... the glasses have disappeared since, but I still have that ring.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

15 for 15

I just finished unwrapping 15 brand new music CD’s.

That was fun.

Now, I have to “import” all of them onto my Mac, then onto my iPod.

Yeah. Fun.

My favorite part of buying a new music record used to be unwrapping it, sliding in the CD into my music player for the first time and going through the sleeve/booklet (I love the way they smell).

Now, that seems rudimentary. As the actual act of owning a CD doesn’t have the same value it used to. Because once you import it onto whatever machine you’re using, you are unlikely to EVER pick that CD again.

Still, I was as excited as a bunny in a free-range carrot field when I stumbled upon an entire stack of brand new CD’s at Geant, going for as low as BD1 only each! I spent the better part of half an hour rummaging through the stacks.

I found a couple of gems, a few old records and some new ones. I couldn’t get all the ones I wanted to go, because that would’ve been silly. But I’m happy with my new collection, which includes Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Rolling Stones, Fastball, Razorlight, Radiohead, Weezer and BeastieBoys among others.

I’ve currently got a little over 600 CD’s on my shelf. These don’t include the ones I got tucked away, the ones I lost to ex-girlfriends, and the ones I left behind in my travels.

Also, don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got hundreds of “cassette tapes” in my closet!

Now, let the “importing” begins!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

True Fiction - Every Month!

Every month, I will post a new piece of writing for you. These will include completed, unpublished short stories, essays, columns, or works in progress. These will be available online free for you to read and your feedback will be much appreciated.

Head over to the "True Fiction" section to find the first of the series, a short story entitled "The Shadowlands", which is about a man who loses his shadow.

Thank you.

Bahraini Girls Rock... Hard!

When women do something in this part of the world, it is always met with a mixture of excitement and conservatism, so it was no surprise to finally see one of the very first Bahraini all-female rock bands making their noise heard.

Scarlet Tear is a two-piece gothic ala-Evanescence rock band who first appeared on Facebook, slowly but steadily building up an online fan base. Their story was picked up by none other than the LA Times, with an article published on their website.

It will be interesting to see how this young band develops, especially at a time in Bahrain where the music scene is finally happening, albeit at a very small scale at this stage. Check out the two tracks they've posted on their FB page and show your support.

Personally, I think it's wonderful to see, but I think the girls are playing right at the moment by keeping their identity hidden and staying out of public eye. When the time is right, I am sure we will see them live on stage here in Bahrain.

The Return

I am sure there is a reason for bringing back an old blog to life after more than 3 years in the twilight. But I am not sure what it is yet. I'm hoping to find out, one post at a time.