Oud, Liwa and Al-Sout

Weaving through the narrow streets lined with gold shops, I said to my Bahraini friend, “I have never been here before.  Where are we?”

“This is the old Muharraq souq.  Remember when I showed you my grandfather’s house?  We are near there.  The Mohammed Bin Faris Hall is next door to my husband’s father’s house.”

“Next door” or “Near to” are typically included in the directions a Bahraini gives but they are not literal.  My experience is Bahrainis are so knowledgeable about the honeycombed streets, they find it difficult to give detailed directions an outsider needs.  If I wanted to ever find my way back, I would have take a daytime, reconnaissance trip.

Arriving before 7pm, we met some old school friends on the doorstep.  Hearing I was from California, one women became particularly interested.

“Where – in Los Angeles?” she asked.

“Yes, as a matter of fact.”

“GO TROJANS,” she yelled making her fingers into a horn.  “I went to USC.”

“So did my husband,” I told her and instantly we became friends.

My new friend insisted on showing us the recently opened Mohammed Bin Faris House Museum where the legendary Bahraini artist used to live.  Born in 1855, he recorded several Al Sout albums in Iraq and two albums in Bahrain before his death about 1946.  Looking around his one-room house, his albums did not go platinum during his lifetime.  Still seventy years later, his music continues to be played live.

At 7pm, ten Bahrainis wearing matching winter-grey thobes entered from the stage left and began setting out their instruments – a qanum, violin, oud, several drums and an electric keyboard.

“Who do you think will dance?” my friend asked me.

“It will likely be that guy,” I said pointing to the tall thin, young man who reminded me of Harold Perrineau from LOST.  “The others are too chubby to be dancers.”

Without any introduction, the singer began.  A slow song, “About love,” my friend whispered to me.  By the second song, the tempo sped up, the clapping began and then the dancing.  It was not the young Perrineau look-a-like; rather, the oldest man, a tall man of African descent with a missing front tooth began a slow, somber walk across the stage.  Soon the music inspired him.  He spun around, placed his hand on his ghuttra and jumped high off the ground then spun again.  The twinkle in his eye showed us how much fun he had before returning to his seat to help out with the percussion.

When the spirit moved him, he would get up.  As the songs continued, love song after love song, his shoulders started shimmering and his gestures grew more flirty.  He paused to pose for us, the photo-taking audience, or to smile at a friend.

“Is he doing this for show,” I asked my friend.  “Would your husband dance like him?”

“No, he is performing.  My husband would not dance like that.”

“His jumping reminds me of the African dancers we saw in Tanzania.  Is he Bahraini?” I wondered.

“Yes, but probably his ancestors were from Africa.”

I read later, liwa is a traditional African dance performed in the Gulf by people from Tanzania and Zanzibar.  Usually the al-sout was a male-only dance performed at night.

mohammen bin fares hall

The Mohammed Faris Hall is modern and formal but the audience was fluid and friendly.  Some arrived late then walked across the seats to kiss their friend hello.  Others shouted their Salams to the band when they entered.  An elderly man called out for his favorite songs.  And a woman announced in a loud voice before she led a pack of friends out, “We would love to stay with you all night, but we have another appointment.”

We did not have another appointment so continued to listen to song after song about love – “if you love me, how could you have done this to do me” and “I see your face in the water I drink”.  Finally, the topic moved from loving women to loving Bahrain.

ABOUT MOHAMMED BIN FARIS BAND

7pm every Thursday night, the band will perform in the Mohammed Bin Faris hall.  Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture, their concerts are free.  There is little parking around the hall.  It might be easier to take a taxi.

The Hall opened in April 2013 and is part of the Muharraq revitalization project.  Across the street, a new Zaffron café has opened.  It is built over an old date juice building.  The acrylic floors make you feel like your floating.  Zaffron serves breakfast, coffee and tea.

Advertisements

Annie Kurkdjian Authentic Expression

Annie Kurkdjian’s Flight and Enclosure at albareh gallery is one of the most provocative exhibits I have seen in Bahrain.  Occasionally artists paint abaya-clad women or soft, ephemeral women whose faces remain obscured.  Kurkdjian’s work is provocative, not only because she is an Arab painting naked women, but because she reveals how they feel.

Upon entering, a woman bored out of her mind drew me across the entire gallery to the sunroom.  The woman/girl’s life is so tedious, the only thing she has to do is twiddle a tiny black box – or blank space – in her delicate fingers.  Her eyes are not filled with fear or anger, nor hope, nor joy – just boredom.  Actually her boredom is so great, she looks feeble-minded as if trapped in a state of perpetual adolescence.

All the naked women shared the same ennui.

After absorbing that initial impact, I toured the gallery to see if I could witness the artist’s evolution.

Her 2007 and 2008 paintings were done in dark colors and incorporated pain and archetypal symbols: witchy women, cages, ravens, mummified beings and blood.  Their darkness reflects the underworld; the psyche’s dark realms; and the artist’s experience as a young girl during Lebanon’s civil war.

annie kurkdjian #art man and woman 2012

Kurkdjian began to rise from the depths and into the world but with a changed perspective.  Since at least 2009, she incorporated a surrealist style and elongated her subjects’ limbs into curves only a Bahraini highway engineer could imagine.  She painted both women and men whose giraffe necks give them a 180 degree view of the world.

2013 Kurkdjian burst into the light of the living.  Her colors became brighter.  Her subjects were more vibrant as if new energy had entered the women’s lives.

Yet, despite escaping the darkness, in this new life, her young women cannot get out of bed.

annie kurkdjian bored woman bed  #art 2013

Lying across her bed like a wet noodle, the young woman has nothing to look forward to and cannot generate the will to participate in another dull day.

annie kurkdjian #art pained woman in bed 2013

Another cannot leave her bed because her boredom has become her pain, forcing her round, healthy body into a fetal position.

annie kurkdjian #art woman in bed with black box 2013

One woman is in so much actual pain, her fingernails dig furrows in her bedcovers.  Her wasted body can barely hold her “black box” which is horribly out of place.  She waits, presumably, for death.

When a few women do get out of bed, their day is spent in intimate investigation of their bodies. Three young women, echoing their Greek sisters, the muses, discover their beautiful, long braids are really chains.

annie kurkdjian #art #albareh flight and enclosure

For the exhibit’s catalog cover, the woman is actually dressed, but not for going out in public.  The highlight of her day is gobbling her food out of a giant, dog bowl which she does without real joy.

annie kurkdjian #art frankenstein woman 2013

Perhaps the young women see a future destined to be like this mother with her dyed hair and face like a Frankenstein monster.  Her body no longer her own, she  has become a creation sewn together by some mad doctor.  Resigned to the boredom of servitude, she lifts the tray and serves us her milk cups.

The exhibit’s official description was the usual art speak and made no sense to me.  What I saw was an exhibit describing the poor state of women’s lives, particularly those who have survived war.  Kurkdjian did not title her paintings.  Perhaps she did not need to as the women’s stories were in their bodies and eyes, not in their words.

ABOUT ALBAREH

Annie Kurkdjian’s exhibit runs through December 30, 2013 at albareh gallery in Adliyah.  I highly recommend it.  Click picture below for a link to online catalog.

annie kurkdjian #art #albareh flight and enclosure brochure

What You Carry in Your Heart

In the desert, the hour before sunset feels like someone turned down the oven thermometer and set out that day’s pie, with its perfectly golden edges, for everyone to savor.  It is a magical time as the light and the dark merge.

The Monastery was at its breath-taking best; a brilliant carnelian like the gem the ancients placed on the dead to protect them during their voyage to the afterlife.

Less than twenty people sat at the Monastery Café savoring the view before beginning their walk down the stairs.  It was now or never.

Eva anjayasana at Monastery small v2

Emulating the mischievous Hanuman, the saffron-colored, monkey-god, I scrambled up into the cavern.  The Ramayana tells how he used his siddhis to shape-shift.  Perched on the edge, I bowed deep into hanumanasana.  My whole body grew and filled the monastery’s entrance before shrinking down to normal.

Hanumanasana in monastery petra jordan 2013

Amazed, others tried to access the “cave’s” power.

One man did flips.

Maaz tried handstands.

bedouin boys sitting on monastery petra jordan

The Bedouin boys climbed to the top of the temple and dangled their legs over the edge, hoping they would be stretched to the ground.

Their faces, arms and legs remained unchanged.  And my secret stayed in my heart.

The Monastery – 1839 and 2013

Safely reaching the summit, we slid off our donkeys’ backs.  Standing in front of Al-Deir, the memory of our steep journey rolled away.

“It is glorious,” marveled Louise.  “Save for a little wear and tear, it looks just like David Robert’s painting.”

The Young and the Creative

Umbrella on Paradise Beach

Andrew Weaver’s Umbrella on Paradise Beach from Between Two Seas

Bahrain may be known for its two-seas – the salty Gulf and the ancient, sweet water; but since I have lived here, I have noticed a third current.  It is an under-current of organic creativity.

Today Bahrain’s “art scene”, officially sponsored since 1983, has been outflanked by Art Dubai.  Eight years ago, this now, annual event was created as one more attraction to draw international tourists.  The organizers have successfully secured the international acclaim they sought.

Still, on this tiny island, I feel a growing wave of creativity.  I sense it is the children of the first generation that went to the West to be educated.  The “second” generation also studied abroad, but not as engineers or doctors.  Uninterested in corporate jobs, they have chosen to follow the heart and to become musicians, photographers, designers, or artists.

Recently, I chatted with Ramah al Husseini and Yasmin Sharabi, two women who have returned home, and who are helping to grow the local art scene.

2013-05-08 11.28.28

Yasmin Sharabi is the curator at the Waterline Gallery.  Like many Bahraini landmarks, it was “previously known as” the Atrium Gallery in the Bahrain Financial Harbor.  Potentially a way to draw visitors into the Financial Harbor’s echoing halls, the gallery‘s brand is undergoing a face-life as it seeks to find its place within the larger, international art scene.

At the Waterline, the RE Exhibit continues.  RE features four artists who recycled materials to relay their observations of human excess while providing a glimmer of hope and innovation.

Last week, I met young artist and gallery operator, Ramah al Husseini who presented her portfolio to a group of art lovers.

yellow house in budaiya

Returning to Bahrain after university in Canada, she decided to open a private gallery that houses an exhibition hall and an art studio.  Located in a twenty-year old, renovated house in Budaiya, like the Waterline Gallery, Anamil 296 is a brand in-progress.  Still, Ramah announced her third exhibit would open this week.

If the waves of creativity continue to wash across this island, I think the fires of despair will be extinguished.

ABOUT ANAMIL 296, JUNE 5TH EXHIBIT
June 5 2013 exhibit opening at Anamil 296 in Bahrain
ABOUT THE WATERLINE GALLERY and RE EXHIBIT

The Waterline Art Gallery, 3rd Floor Atrium, Harbour Mall, Bahrain Financial Harbour.

There is a new entrance into the Financial Harbour at Bab Al Bahrain/Manama City Center.  The Financial Harbour road leads straight to the building, but you will completely circle the Harbor Tower to end up back at the side facing Bab Al Bahrain where the Visitor Parking entrance is located.

After taking the elevator to the third floor, follow the signs to pointing left through the dark offices to enter the gallery.

Say It Ain’t So Giuse Maggi – May 20 and 21 2013 Workshop

The Book of the Truth by Giuse Maggi 2013

Internationally-known, glass artist, Giuse Maggi, like the rest of the world, has turned to plastic.

How did this development come about?

Recycled glass has been the foundation of her work.  Her trademark, glass bottle plates have been a staple at all her shows.  However, after years of wrapping herself in a flame-proof apron and wearing thick gloves and goggles to melt glass in 450 degree heat, she decided to experiment and turned to the most ubiquitous, manmade, material on earth – plastic.  Giuse told me, in her Italian-accent,

“I wanted a material which was not so fra-gile.  I dis-covered how easy plas-tic is to melt and shape.”

The large, hanging piece, she calls “Inner Space” is made out of 6,000 water bottles.  Her other pieces in the RE exhibit include a second, hanging piece made from one hundred, milk cartons; colored, detergent bottle creations; several flowers; and a book fabricated from a countless number of melted, plastic grocery bags.  The pieces are not just about creating beauty from waste, but includes her warning about our consumer society.

Giuse finds plastic to be one of the most useful and easily manipulated materials- offering her endless possibilities. She compulsively cuts, melts, presses and ties … begging us to consider our harsh reality: that 45,000 tons of plastic a year are dumped into our world’s oceans, critically harming marine life.

– from the RE Exhibit.

One strong message is about plastic’s toxicity.

The cancer causing process

In a public discussion, this geologist turned artist said she would never do high heat, plastic melting again.  The plastic, especially the detergent bottles, poisoned her body and literally made her sick.  Weeks after finishing the exhibit, a metallic taste lingers in her mouth.  She tries to extinguish the affect with food and drink, but a few hours after eating, it returns.  She warned heating plastic should only be done in a highly ventilated room or outside.

For re-creating plastic into jewelry, Giuse suggests only using a candle flame.  “It is safer,” she said.

However, her experience makes me wonder about the use of plastics for anything – from the Downey detergent bottles, the clear plastic, cover molded around my new, plastic toothbrush to the millions of plastic toys baby’s insert into their mouths.  Creating plastic products requires a high heat process which sends the fumes into the air.  After its short life in our homes, the dumped plastic takes approximately 1,000 years to break into small bits, allowing its base chemicals to flow into the soil and water systems.

Consumer manufacturers have turned to plastic because, like Giuse, they discovered how easy and cheap it is to mold.  The question becomes – are we trading our clean air for convenience, ease of delivery and the manufacturers’ quarterly profits?

Giuse continues to lecture on recycling plastic.  This week at the Waterline Gallery, she is teaching how to transform our waste into jewelry, creating wearable art using her cold method.

ABOUT THE JEWELRY MAKING EVENT

Artist and teacher Giuse Maggi, will conduct a “RE” jewelry class.  Using recycled plastic and basic tools, you’ll learn how to transform plastic bottles into wearable brooches, hair accessories, bracelets or necklaces.

The workshop will be held for two days – Monday 20th-21st May from 6.00-8.00pm at the Waterline Gallery in the Bahrain Financial Harbor.

The 5BD cost will cover all the tools you will need.

Please confirm your attendance on Facebook or send an email to ysharabi@bfharbour.com

ABOUT THE WATERLINE GALLERY

The Waterline Art Gallery, 3rd Floor Atrium, Harbour Mall, Bahrain Financial Harbour.

There is a new entrance into the Financial Harbour at Bab Al Bahrain/Manama City Center.  The Financial Harbour road leads straight to the building, but you will completely circle the Harbor Tower to end up back at the side facing Bab Al Bahrain where the Visitor Parking entrance is located.

After taking the elevator to the third floor, follow the signs to pointing left through the dark offices to enter the gallery.

A Conversation with Loraine Todd on Hooks, Books and Feathers

Loraine Todd RE

Artist Loraine Todd will host an informal discussion at the Waterline Gallery Thursday, May 9th at 6:30pm.  She will chat about her inspiration for her pieces included in the RE exhibit .

My relationship with Loraine began over clay.  You might have met her behind a camera, dressing a mannequin or digging through salvage yards.  You see, Loraine’s creativity is only constrained by her day job.  It seems she has her fingers in a bit of everything.

Her eye has a way of taking what already is and reflecting it back into the world through a different lens.  For Thursday evening, she has chosen a few excerpts from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing to help explain how she came to view Art.

Come to the Waterline Gallery Thursday evening for a chat.  You may leave with a changed perspective about …. everything.

bird in the hand is worth two in the bush loraine todd

ABOUT ARTIST, LORAINE TODD

Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, Loraine has traveled extensively and lived in numerous countries worldwide. Loraine studied photography at Auckland University.  She then went on to study textiles and ceramics as well as Art Therapy at Goldsmiths University, London, UK. She has taken part in exhibitions as both a curator and/or an artist as well as set/ prop design for various theatrical productions.

ABOUT JOHN BERGER’S WAYS OF SEEING

“John Berger’s Ways of Seeing is one of the most stimulating and influential books on art in any language. First published in 1972, it was based on the BBC television series about which the (London) Sunday Times critic commented: “This is an eye-opener in more ways than one: by concentrating on how we look at paintings… he will almost certainly change the way you look at pictures.” By now he has.” – Penguin Books

“Controversial at the time – its focus on the tacit ideologies of Old Masters and led one critic to liken it to “Mao’s Little Red Book for a generation of art students” – it’s now regarded not only as a landmark work of British arts broadcasting, but as a key moment in the democratisation of art education. Its 40th anniversary has been marked at a series of public talks and at a major Berger conference at King’s College London.” – Guardian

GETTING TO THE WATERLINE GALLERY

3rd Floor of the Harbour Mall, Bahrain Financial Harbour.  To enter Visitor Parking, follow the road as it circles ALL the buildings back around to the front.  Keep asking security for directions.

Previous Older Entries

Archives

Tales by Chapter

%d bloggers like this: