The Bab – Then and Now

Welcome to the Bab Eva the Dragon April 2013

Bab means gate in Arabic.

The Bab Al Bahrain was the entrance gate into old Manama’s market place.  Thirty years ago, outside the gate, there was not land for an asphalt lot with one hundred, parking spaces and pigeons.  The turquoise sea lapped around the fisherman’s harbor.  Like the rest of the world, man’s technology has literally changed Bahrain’s landscape.  Dredgers reclaimed the Arabian Gulf, extending the island nearly a half a kilometer beyond its original edge.

Clock tower downtown Manama Eva the Dragon 2013

Today, Bahrain is no longer a harbor for fishermen or pearl divers.  Pushed by the first discovery of Gulf oil in 1932, Bahrain became the Gulf’s original, industrialized country.  Oil brought Europeans who brought air-conditioning.  Air-conditioning, Bahrain’s cultural openness and the Saudi-Bahrain causeway created the right environment for foreign banks, insurance companies and the first Gulf tourism.

In 1999, we visited Bahrain and stayed at the downtown Sheraton.  Carrying my six-month old baby, I did not want to walk the few blocks to the gold souq.  I hailed a taxi cab and explained I wanted to go gold shopping.

The taxi driver said, “Madame, I know where to take you.” And he drove away from Manama.

I wondered whether or not I was being kidnapped as I felt like he was taking me out into the hinterlands.  In the distance, the Meridian Hotel sat on the ocean shore.  He turned in its direction and dropped me off at the Marks and Spencer entrance at the new Seef Mall.

“Here is where you want to go,” he informed me.  “You will find the gold shops inside.”  He was correct that the gold shops were there.  But I was looking for the souq experience and haggling with the shopkeepers.

Bab street in the old Days photo from souq

Inside the air conditioned souq today Eva the Dragon 2013

Bahrain’s several malls have threatened the old souq with extinction.  To save the souq, the government recently invested in a roof and air-conditioned the Bab’s main street.  Old-time shopkeepers were given the opportunity to be part of the new souq, but many could not afford the increased rent.

Map of Bab Al Bahrain and surrounding area

Despite the ongoing, souq arguments published in the local paper, it is fun to go down to Bab Al Bahrain.  I drove over last week while everyone else was at the Formula One.  The weather was not stifling.  The streets have been cleaned.  The parking lot car washers and taxi drivers were friendly.  Throughout April and May, the Ministry of Culture is promoting small, local businesses by sponsoring art and musical events in the “BAB”.

musician playing oud in the bab al bahrain Eva the Dragon 2013

Entering the Bab in the old days photo in souq

Don’t let the soldiers carrying machine guns intimidate you.  The Bab guards have been carrying guns for awhile.  Unfortunately, all over the world, the guns, like the landscape, have changed.

April the Month of Earthquakes and Art

Earthquakes in Iran

Iran’s 6.3 earthquake and the 7.8 “after-shock” today were felt all the way around the Gulf.

“Why are we feeling them?  What’s does this herald?,” people are asking.

Focusing on the positive, perhaps all the art exhibits opening this month in Bahrain are causing the excitement.

RE exhibit

AWA Visons 2013

Divine Feminine at World Beat Fitness

Big Red House Exhibit  April 27

extraordinary ordinary at la fontaine invite

Rachel Gadsden’s Public Art

Rachel Gadsden al riwaq gallery bahrain

Sometimes the most extraordinary things come from a little push.

“Do you want to go?  Do you?  Okay, let’s do it.  I’ll get dressed and leave in five minutes.”

This was the conversation my friend and I had to go through to motivate ourselves to attend artist, Rachel Gadsden’s live painting exhibit.

3×3 meter canvases hung on the wall outside the Al Riwaq Gallery.  I found an empty seat next to my friend, artist Lena Dajani and settled in to watch the show.

Rachel Gadsden, dressed head to toe in black with pink trainers, started sketching a couple of figures using charcoal. She turned to the audience,

“I need some help to create this work.  Who would like to join me?”

I admired her courage.  First, painting in front of a group must be a bit like speech making; one of the top ten things people dislike doing.  Secondly, she did not know how much effort it took to motivate the self-conscious, mostly young, female audience, wearing hijab to trade their phones for a paint brush.

I grabbed a tissue from the passing waitress and got busy munching the chicken avocado sandwish.  I encouraged my young, thirteen-year old friend to get up and paint.  She suddenly discovered the chocolate cake and busied her hands.

A young man, wearing a backpack, was walking by.  Hearing Rachel, he looked at the staring, waiting crowd and volunteered.  Given a palette of paint, he began swirling color around the canvas.  After a few minutes, he turned to us and asked, “Who would like to go next?”

Eventually a couple of European ladies got up and painted. As I watched the combination of grey-blue, orange, red and teal cover the canvas, I wondered how the artist would pull it all together.

Two of the four canvases completed, Rachel started on the third canvas.  The young girls around me would not go up.  Finally, I could not wait any longer.  I grabbed a paint brush and started painting curves and circles.   As I painted, Rachel Gadsden explained to the audience how honored she felt when Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall had been at the opening of her exhibit “This Breathing World” at Katara Cultural Village for the Arts and Disability Festival in Doha.

Rachel Gadsden Painting in Adliya

I barely heard her.  It was so FUN painting without fear, free from any worry what the end result would look like.  I let the color move itself across the canvas.  I could have continued longer, but felt obliged to share the joy and sat down.

Rachel asked, “Can someone come up and write some words in Arabic.  I would love to have my experience being here in the Middle East as part of the painting.”

I told the girls around me, “See I went up.  Now you have to go.”

“I do not know what word to write,” they claimed.

“Peace, love, happiness, breath,” I suggested.  “Ocean, sun.”

We continued back and forth.  I could not convince them to go up by themselves.  Finally I said, “You help me to write moon in Arabic.”

“Which moon do you want to write?” the young woman,wearing square glasses, asked me. “Hilal is the small crescent moon.  It is masculine.  Or the full moon, that is feminine.”

“The feminine,” I said.

Together we went up to the canvas.  She said, “I will move your hand and you can write it.”

I held the charcoal and she guided me through moon.  As soon as the word was done, she left me to color it in.  By the time I relinquished the palette, the paintings were nearly complete.

Returning to my chair, I encouraged my young friend to add a word before the session ended.  She began consulting the Bahraini girls.  Purses were opened, pens were located, and finally a scratch paper was torn from the memo pad.  Thanking the young women, she rushed to the canvas and wrote her word across the bottom.

“What did you write?” asked Rachel.

Rachel Gadsden final painting with courage in adliya_edited-1

“Courage” she smiled, her braces showing.

That’s what Art does.  It gives us courage to engage our neighbors, linking us together despite the differences in culture and abilities.  And it only takes the vision of one person, someone like Rachel Gadsden, to motivate us to find shared beauty within the multi-colored mess of our world.

About Rachel Gadsden

Contemporary artist, Rachel Gadsden, is the Director of Unlimited Global Alchemy

Her exhibit This Breathing World is about experiencing disabling conditions and fighting for life in the face of social taboos.   It includes drawings, paintings and films, and is underpinned by themes of fragility and resilience, a shared and positive sense of survival in the face of chronic health conditions, and the politics and mythologies surrounding disability.

Unlimited Global Alchemy was one of the thirteen commissions awarded during the second round for Unlimited is the ground-breaking programme that celebrates arts and culture by disabled and deaf artists.  Funded by the Olympic Lottery Distributor, 820,000 pounds was granted to artists for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.  Unlimited Global Alchemy is one of three commissions in round two who created in collaboration with international partners and with funding contributed by the British Council.   Unlimited is delivered in partnership between London 2012, Arts Council England, the Scottish Arts Council, Arts Council of Wales, Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the British Council.

You can see her photos, which are much better than mine, on her tumblr account and learn more about her on her website.

About the British Council

The British Council sponsors artists who come to Bahrain and offers free classes to anyone who wants to sign up.  Meant to help encourage art within the local community, my experience is I show up and usually there is an open seat.  I take one and suddenly meet the most extraordinary people.

Rachel Gadsden’s visit is being sponsored by the British Council and the Al Riwaq Gallery.

Hey Sexy Owl

Letters to Ishtar 3

Recently the newspaper reported that women in downtown Manama were being harassed by tourists.  The tourists were assuming all women walking along this particular street were “women of the night”.  One woman said the men in their cars, slowly drove by and called out, “Hey sexy owl.”

I did not understand the owl reference and have been asking Arab people whether they could explain it.  No one had an answer for me.  It was after stepping into the Al Riwaq Gallery to see Letters to Ishtar that I realized the source of this very ancient, owl reference.

Ishtar from Babylonia British_Museum_Queen_of_the_Night from Wikipedia

Ishtar, was the great Babylonian Goddess.  The Bible referred to her as Ashtoreth and the Mother of Harlots.  One of her symbols was the owl.  In many depictions, she held a staff made of intertwined snakes, the caduceus’ precursor.

“With exultation in my supremacy, with exultation do I, a Goddess, walk supreme; Ishtar, the Goddess of the evening, am I; Ishtar, the Goddess of morning, am I; Ishtar who opens the portals of heaven, in my supremacy.” – Poems to Ishtar.

HAR meant temple of women and Harine referred to the female. spiritual rulers in Ishtar’s city, Uruk, in ancient Iraq.  Bahrain’s story intertwines with Ishtar’s because she wanted to marry Gilgamesh.  Gilgamesh refused her proposal.  Enraged, she sent her heavenly bull to kill him.  Gilgamesh, helped by his friend Enkidu, killed the bull and threw its thigh at her face.

Letters to Ishtar 2

Using poetry, painting, collage and sculpture, Iraqi artist, Himat Mohamed Ali has created a dialogue about this ancient Goddess.  It is on display at Al Riwaq through April 24th as part of the Spring of Culture.  It is an interesting opportunity to explore how the ancient past continues to exist within the region’s subconscious.

Karibu Tanzania Exhibit Opens March 2 at World Beat in Bahrain

Lena W Dajani Karibu Tanzania Bahrain 2013

Lena Dajani Karibu Tanzania Spring of Culture 2013

A Taste of Africa In Bahrain

Lena W Dajani Karibu Tanzania Bahrain 2013

During the Spring of Culture, Lena W Dajani, an artist and my friend, is having her first solo exhibit at World Beat Fitness starting March 2, 2013.

 Karibu Tanzania is Swahili for “Welcome to Tanzania”.

The beauty of Tanzania’s vibrant landscapes and people are the subject of Lena’s first solo exhibit.  Between 2008 –2010, Lena and her family lived in Dar Es Salam.  She immediately fell in love with the city, its idyllic setting on the Indian Ocean and tropical landscape.  From Dar Es Salaam, the family explored the shores of Zanzibar, sailed the Indian Ocean, and took numerous safari trips to the country’s national parks.  Traveling through the Ngorongoro Crater, Manyara, Serengeti, Amani, Saadani, Bongoyo, Mbudya and Ruaha reserves, she captured the family adventures.  This exhibit was created from her thousands of photos.

Lena was a member of Artist Seana Mallen’s Awali Arts.  Under Seana’s artistic guidance, her painting developed from a hobby to a commitment to create unique artwork drawing from her global experiences.  A busy mother, she currently works with watercolor and acrylic painting that allows her to quickly and effectively re-create and capture her impressions.

Private collectors in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tanzania have purchased Lena’s paintings.  She created a line of greeting cards and has presented her art work in several local exhibitions.

  • Bahrain International Garden Show (2007 & 2008) with the Awali Arts
  • Desert Designs, Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia (2007)
  • Art House Open Studios, Bahrain (2008)
  • BAPCO’s 2012 First Annual Art competition, Bahrain (2012)

Karibu Tanzania will continue through March at World Beat.  However, if you can, on the opening day, stop by to meet and chat with Lena.  Her conversations range from Islamic art, Edward Tingatinga’s paintings, African safaris, Bali artists, high-tea in London, camping trips in Oman, Middle East politics, recipes from Gourmet magazine or family tennis tournaments in the south of France.  Her passport may say American, but she is a true Global Citizen and her art is inspired by global culture.

You can LIKE Lena on FACEBOOK.

Lena Dajani Karibu Tanzania Spring of Culture 2013

Camel Caravan on Block 338

فأكل الجمل وعلى كل ما قامت.

He ate the camel and all that carried.

 To eat someone out of house and home.

– From the delightful Apricots Tomorrow by Primrose Arnander and Ashkhain Skipwith

To compete with the donkeys and elephants in Washington DC and the Arabian horses of Dubai, Bahrain has created a caravan of camels to enliven Block 338 and the Seef Mall Entrance.

In a bid to encourage the local artists’ paints to beautify the community, the government sponsored a camel painting contest.  Personally I liked number 23.

If you have always wanted a camel but were put off by having to feed it, then these are the camels for you.  They are up for auction.

Although real Bedouins will wonder what is the use of such a camel, for the city dweller, they are a perfect reminder of their ancestral past.

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