Life as Art – ALWAN338

ALWAN338 at Bohemia

LmbK described Life as Art when the first creation provided the idea for the second making life a multi-layered experience.

Or walking around ALWAN 338 you might describe Life as Art.

ALWAN 338 was led by one of Bahrain’s preeminent arts advocates, Bayan Al Barak Kanoo.  Since 1998 she has promoted new artists and actively sought to creatively engage the community.

This year in conjunction with the Spring of Culture Festival, her gallery the Al Riwaq Art Space, with the aid of government and non-government supporters, teamed up with its neighbors in the 338 restaurant block to create a community space for art.

Last week my friend and I drove over to ALWAN338.

As the threshold for ALWAN338, Zoe’s restaurant, got a facelift.  The outside was painted a bright blue with gold, oriental-style motifs.  Mercedes Gonzalez de Garay’s graphic cut-outs of old Egyptian movie stars hung between the windows.  Across the street from Mirai, Scottish artist Alan Goulbourne created a wood sculpture on the plywood around the vacant lot.

Late as usual, we hurried over to Al Riwaq to meet a third friend.  She had already toured al mahata – the station – exhibit featuring Egyptian artist Mohamed Sharkawy.  His tarbouched-figures graphically interpreted Old Cairo.

Playing catch-up I dashed through the rooms.

Waheedah Mallulah at ALWAN338

Waheedah Mallulah’s Big Rooster and the Little One, a montage of black, white and red photos of Mallulah doing yoga-for-roosters, delighted the rooster-lover in me.    The gift shop was transformed into a space for Zilia Monteiro’s videography.

Mohamed Sharkawy at ALWAN338

I climbed the curved stairwell to the second floor where Sharkawy’s Egyptians continued to go about their daily business.

Next to the colorful, but undifferentiated beings, a young man sat on the couch, his earphones around his neck, working on his laptop.  He smiled at me and asked whether or not I had seen the exhibit at Bohemia, the building encircled with flying bicycles.

I told him no, but said “we were on our way over there”.  I asked him if he was working.

He said, “I am finishing up an assignment.  I go to school at NYIT.”

“Good luck.”  We smiled at each other and said good-bye.

The renovation of the old Bohemia restaurant into a four-story exhibition for I AM THE OTHER is the crowning achievement of ALWAN338.  Visiting-artist Mo Reda connected with over 20 Bahrain-based artists to comment on

“how do we exclude the OTHER, when we ourselves are the OTHER to those around us?”

This is a critical question in a time when the EU considers whether “to let” Turkey join their union, after France and Switzerland created legislation responding to their Muslim populations, and in the USA where mainstream Americans describe the OTHER as Teacup Conservatives, uber-rich executives or illegal alien-workers.

A microcosm of global politics, Bahrain has faced its own challenges over the past year.  As the diverse community members entered into the National Dialogue, the question of Who am I?  Am I the OTHER? became particularly relevant.  ALWAN338 gave established and emerging artists an opportunity to publicly add their distinctive “voice” to the dialogue and answer the question in their unique ways.

Bahraini, Bahrain-immigrants and Arab artists of “mixed” parents presented their personal experiences as the OTHER.   Being and raising third-culture children, the exhibit felt relevant to me.

However, I found the most striking artists were Bahrain Contemporary Arts Association member Nader Abdulrahim, street-artist Huvil and architect Maysam Nassar.

Maysam Nasser at ALWAN338

The fact that they can publicly describe their perspectives regarding truth and current social issues speaks volumes on Bahrain’s openness compared to its neighbors.

But the ALWAN338 artists are not just visual artists or limited to these two venues.

DJs will be performing live at The Meat Company, an excellent place to go during this pre-summer lull in the heat.

Architect Sara Kanoo created a temporary “Park”; an outdoor stage, library and cinema screen.   In this under-utilized public space, films “Life in the Day” (April 10, 7:30pm) and “Man Without a Cellphone” (April 12, 7pm) will be shown; jazz-band 13th Note (April 13, 8pm) and Watan (April 20, 8pm) will perform; and several workshops for kids (Spray Painting, Cartoon Animation) and Adults (Photography, Mosaic, Street Art Intervention) will be held.

My friends and I left Bohemia hoping it would become a permanent gallery and walked to Coco’s for an outdoor lunch.  Coming towards us was the tall, slim man I saw earlier at Al Riwaq.

Only then I knew his name.  Ghalib Zuhair.  He was the Iraqi artist whose visage was featured on the  I AM THE OTHER cover.

Ghalib Zuhair at ALWAN338

According to his bio, he is looking for a place to call home.

“I just saw your installation in the gallery.”  Being recognized, he beamed.   “How long have you been doing photography?” I asked him.

“About twelve years.  This is my second exhibit.”

“Congratulations.  You did a great job.  It seems like Bahrain is home for you.”

“For now,” he smiled.

That, my friends, is Life as Art.

ALWAN338 continues through April 22nd from 10am-10pm.  The entire schedule is on the Al Riwaq website and exhibit programs can be found at the restaurants in Adliya where the ALWAN338 flag is displayed.   The restaurants that have given support and invite you to experience art-camaraderie, Bahraini-style include Blaze Burgers, Block 338, Café Italia, Mezzaluna, Tian and Masso at the Palace Hotel.

In case you don’t remember Bohemia (next to the Adliya Café Lilou which for some reason is not a sponsor), you can plug this address into your GPS:  Adliya, Block 338, Road 3816, Building 502.

A Cocktail of Red Velvet Cake, Art and Birthday Presents

Melissa's Bday Portrait by Loredana. In front of Al Riwaq, they are sitting on grass sofas by a local artist. Notice the mural of the women. Only in Bahrain will you see that.

“Please join me on the terrace of the Al Riwaq Gallery to celebrate my birthday with tea and cake – 10:30am”

Only my friend Melissa van Maasdyk could glam up her birthday in the morning.  As I fooled around with the clock last night, Mojo asked, “You are setting your alarm on a holiday?”

“I don’t want to miss Melissa’s party,” I told him.  “I’ll need time to get ready.”

Ready because I knew Melissa’s cafe table would be surrounded by a stylish coterie of interesting women.

Known as one of four original saviors of Bahrain’s Modern Art Scene, Melissa’s universe is filled with artists, writers, poets, musicians, photographers, architects, clothing designers, chefs and restaurateurs.  She is a whirlwind of excitement and always has at least a dozen fantastically fun ideas on the tip of her tongue.

And her tongue is quick.

When I first met Melissa I could only stare her mouth trying to absorb her South African accent.  Luckily she accommodated this aMERican and kept me as part of her circle of stylish, globe trotting friends.

A fellow Scorpio I appreciated Melissa’s choice of sitting outside on a BEAUTIFUL November morning in the slowly awakening 338 district which became more vibrant after everyone had their coffee.

Scene around Block 338 in November

Fellow spiritual seeker Dierdre and I helped light the candles on the two layer, red velvet cake as Melissa greeted a Kenyan friend who just returned from visiting monks in Tibet.

Pic as I arrive to the Birthday Tea - Melissa in front of Al Riwaq

The rest of the table was filled with Melissa’s group of working women: Amy the British CEO of a branding company, Nicola a fashion/style writer, Loredana the Italian photographer on call 24/7 for royal gatherings, and tri-lingual Salma, a Syrian who taught Melissa Arabic.  BTW Salma’s gorgeous daughter is the lead in the upcoming Faulty Towers next week at the British Club.

And of course who arrived in gold high heels and a leopard skirt?

Maeve the Irish queen of storytelling and travel writer.

Melissa is nearly done with her new guide to everything modern and fashionable to do in Bahrain.  No boredom allowed.

Accompanied by her photographer she has interviewed Bahrainis to find the best of the best.  She sampled, tasted, and explored every alley to come up with this must have guide for anyone visiting Bahrain.  Her city guide will reflect Melissa’s background as a food critic, style editor and travel writer for international magazines.

As Melissa’s ideas poured out, we laughed when we noticed each of us had pulled out a notebook to write down names and places.

This month Happy Birthday Melissa.  Next Month HAPPY BOOK LAUNCH!

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