ArtBAB 2019 was a dialogue between the old and new.
ArtBAB 2019 was a dialogue between the old and new.

Craft meets art at this year's ArtBAB

Bahrain's leading art exhibition celebrates of the foundational effect and influence of traditional crafts on contemporary art

If there was one thing that stood out at the Art Across Borders – ArtBAB 2019, it was the showcase of Bahrain’s art and craft legacy. At the same time, the exhibition pushed boundaries to offer a multi-layered and multi-dimensional experience through exposure to a Virtual Reality corner that allowed exploration of some of the world’s leading private museums and a diverse speaker’s programme that brought together art foundations, cultural districts and museums with fintech, blockchain, AI and VR specialists. It was truly a dialogue between the old and new.

“We are proud of the unique conversations that we have started about Bahraini art around the world – in 2018 alone, our supporting project Artists Across Borders has taken 25 Bahraini artists to Paris, Moscow, Singapore and the UK,” said Shaikha Maram bint Isa Al Khalifa, director of the Office of Her Royal Highness Wife of the King of Bahrain. “In the 2019 edition of the Fair, we explore not just the heritage and legacies that inspire Bahraini contemporary art, but also the new directions of art on the global stage. We also have a beautifully curated Artisanal Room featuring special installations and large masterpieces rooted in the traditional skills of Bahraini crafts heritage.”

CRAFTed, curated by Frances Stafford, showcased works inspired by Bahraini heritags - such as discarded musical instruments which were repurposed as light fixtures (seen on the wall).

Kaneka Subberwal, director, Fairs & Programmes, ArtBAB, said: “The art fair’s 2019 edition is an exciting amalgam of Bahraini art and cutting-edge trends discussed during the conference. This year, in a first for the region, ArtBAB takes visitors beyond the canvases of the gifted artists of Bahrain and the gallerists who bring some of the famous contemporary artworks to showcase at the fair, and take them not just across borders – but across time-frames too.”

For the first time this year, Bahrain’s heritage of crafts and craftspeople’s took centrestage at ArtBAB 2019 in a movement aptly titled ‘Artisans Across Borders’ – which saw India’s global fashion icon and designer JJ Valaya curate the project, transforming Bahraini craft into acquisitions that will be sought-after in luxury branded stores across the world and develop a new appreciation of the timeless craft traditions among a whole new generation of Bahraini craftspeople.

Announcing the ‘Artisans Across Borders’ project, Shaikha Maram bint Isa Al Khalifa said, “It is with pride that we present ‘Artisans Across Borders’ as an organic continuation of our growth. Our theme for the 2019 edition of ArtBAB is ‘Legacy’ – it is a celebration of the foundational effect and influence of Bahrain’s traditional crafts on contemporary Bahraini art. The project is headlined by noted design guru and luxury fashion icon JJ Valaya [one of India’s foremost fashion designers and couturiers, known for his luxury fashion and lifestyle company, House of Valaya], who works closely with our Bahraini craftspeople to give our timeless craft traditions a contemporary designer touch. It is a collaborative effort that has grown from the vision of ArtBAB Fairs & Programmes director Kaneka Subberwal and Art Select, the art consultancy that conceived it.”

Kaneka Subberwal director, Fairs & Programmes, ArtBAB.

Subberwal said Art Select was excited to have brought the genius and talent of a design icon like Valaya on board. “In the world of commercial art fairs, ArtBAB is relatively young – the March 2019 edition is our fourth. We are proud of the unique conversations that we have started about Bahraini art around the world with our Artists Across Borders programme, which takes Bahraini artists to art capitals around the world, and are keen to replicate this success with Bahraini craftspersons too. ‘Artisans Across Borders’ showcases artisanal works of Bahraini craftspersons who worked closely with JJ Valaya to create a dazzling portfolio of crafts rooted in the traditional skills of the Bahraini crafts heritage.”

The ‘Artisans Across Borders’ initiative saw India’s global fashion icon and designer JJ Valaya curate the project.

‘Artisans Across Borders’ unfolded in three parts. The first was a distinctive Artisanal Room, featuring dramatic large masterpieces of special limited edition and bespoke designs with their origins in Bahraini crafts. The second part consisted of stylish commercial interpretations of Bahraini craft pieces that can be retailed at stylish stores around the world as distinctive representations of Bahraini crafts. The third part of the project is the Book of Bahrain, a lavish coffee-table book of photographs that will encompass different sights of Bahrain’s persona – architecture, history, portraiture and cityscapes.

Explaining his design philosophy, Valaya said, “I believe that, for craft to stay relevant, it has to step into the realm of modernity. The future of craft lies in making it relevant to the new generation, and they want a new avatar of old things with a ‘cool’ factor. This is my exploratory trip and I am delighted with the talent and the historical memory of craftsmanship that sustains Bahrain’s crafts. I worked closely with Bahraini craftspersons to create a chic, art-based version of Bahraini craft pieces that will have global appeal.”


JJ Valaya worked closely with Bahraini craftspersons to give global appeal to vernacular expressions.

Valaya emphasised that Bahrain’s legacy of craft skills was a precious resource today.  “In a technologically driven world, our hands have been reduced to working on keyboards and swiping screens. Bahrain’s craftspeople, with their abundant skills, hold the key to the sensory and tactile components of our lives – and they need to be nourished with new vision and ideas. They are the guardians of our past tactile skills and our future sensory experiences.”

The project involves craftspersons from the Jasra Handicrafts Centre, Capital Mall and the Manama Handicrafts Centre. Shaikha Wafa Al Khalifa, director of crafts at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce & Tourism, said,  “This project  ‘Artisans Across Borders’ is important not just for the re-animation of Bahraini crafts, but because these crafts will take to the world a new portrait of Bahrain as a country where timeless crafts meld with millennial sensibilities.”

CRAFTed, curated by Frances Stafford, was yet another new initiative at ArtBAB this year. This section exhibited works inspired by architecture, archaeology, the natural environment, motifs, handicrafts, calligraphy, and other tangible and intangible elements of heritage from Bahrain in particular and the Gulf region in general.

Held under the patronage of HRH Princess Sabeekha bint Ebrahim Al Khalifa, wife of the King of Bahrain and a keen supporter of the Kingdom’s cultural heritage, ArtBAB 2019 took place from March 6 to 10, 2019 at the Bahrain Exhibitions & Convention Centre. The strategic partner of the event was Tamkeen, Bahrain’s change management agency which supports the building of human resources and the Kingdom’s industrial and knowledge growth management.

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