The Majlis – Public Salam

In Arabic, majlis means a place for sitting.

In the Gulf, all important or connected people have a majlis, a ring of chairs that is opened for anyone to enter and sit with the King, the business man or the esteemed, religious leader.  Upon entering, you are expected to walk around the entire gathering and great everyone individually before taking your place at the end of the line.  One by one, each visitor gets an opportunity to chat with the host.  It is a kind of town meeting where congratulations are given, grievances are expressed or issues discussed.

Of course, fitted for a King, a royal majlis is grand.

But anyone can create a majlis.

majlis one bench by side of the road by eva the dragon

It starts with a bench set along the street or in any open spot.  Someone sits down and calls out, Salam a lay kum – “PEACE be upon you” – to the passerby.

Like Jesus in John 20:19, the receiver responds with “PEACE be with you” – Ah lay kum a Salam.

Greeting someone with PEACE clears the air of any shared negativity.  Without any animosity or grievances, a second chair appears because now there is space for a conversation.

Shlow-nik is the local greeting after Salam.  Like a mood ring, the majlis holder literally asks, “What is your color today?”

I interpret the greeting as a way to express feelings without actually calling them forth.  An unpaid psychiatrist, the listener does not have to engage in the situation.  He lends an ear and responds with haram, masha al’lah or mabruk confirming his understanding of the situation, but leaving all solutions and graces up to God.

Tea, sweets or whatever is on hand are offered because the next part will take awhile.

The conversation expands outward to others in your sphere of influence.  How your children, your mother, your father, your great-aunt, and how all the extended relatives are fairing must be addressed.  To a 21st century Westerner accustomed to getting down to business, it feels like a lot of time is wasted talking about irrelevant people.  But to the Arab, our lives are intertwined with our family, our tribe.  Meeting one is coming into contact with the entire tribe.

It is only after we understand the other’s state of mind and their current family situation and after any physical discomfort caused from hunger or thirst has been eased that we are ready to discuss Matters.

majlis with satellite dishes dragons rabbits and roosters

In the village near our house,  over several weeks, I watched a man create a majlis.  It started with two plastic chairs set up in the vacant lot across the street from his house.  An old sofa was added, then a second.  An extension cord was pulled across the street to run a popcorn maker.  A third sofa appeared and because it was summer, a large fan.  It only took a few weeks before a satellite dish was added and outdoor lights.  Despite the nearby altercations between the villagers and the police, nothing was ever covered or stolen.  It was a majlis.

Last summer in the USA, I noticed people living in beach towns created outdoor majlis.  In my grandparent’s small, Mid-Western town, the unfenced, front yard and porch was the equivalent.

A majlis can only exist where there are no walls, and someone invites you to sit in Peace.

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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.

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

The Pearls of Our Lives

“My mother loved pearls.”

“During my college vacations, I returned home to Ramallah.  We sat together at her dining room table, stringing pearls and talking about my life in the US,” said Lina, Juman Pearls’ designer, to the gathered women.

We were at the Anamil 296 Gallery to hear women artists describe where they found their inspiration.

“I got married and moved to Saudi Arabia.  My finance studies were, how shall I put it? Not wasted, but I did not get the opportunities I wanted.  After a tearful visit, my mother sent me home with a bag of pearls.  She said pearls saved her life after my father died, perhaps they could help me.”

Pearl by pearl, Lina sorted through her bag to design pieces inspired by the particular pearl’s luster.  Working with eastern-province goldsmiths, she created jewelry she imagined elegant women, like her mother, Wedad, would wear.  With each sale, her confidence grew.

Together the mother and daughter traveled to Hong Kong to bargain for cultured-pearls, diamonds and other gems.  Wedad loved stringing pearls, while Lina loved designing.  Their “pearling business” grew and before they knew it, they needed an official name.  They named their company Juman Pearls, after Lina’s only daughter.

Since antiquity, legends say within each pearl was life – everlasting life.

Gilgamesh, British royalty and Jacque Cartier found their way to Bahrain, the land of two seas where the tiny, high-quality, juman, pearls were found.

Bahraini Pearls at Qal at al-Bahrain UNESCO World Heritage Site

“The pearls round Arabia on the Persian Gulf…are specially praised,” wrote the Roman, Pliny the Elder.

By the 1930s, pearl buyers flocked to Japan for Mikimoto’s less expensive, cultured pearls, and the Bahrain pearl divers lost their livelihood. Today 95% of cultured pearls come from China.  Rumor has it, the Japanese have returned to the island in search of Bahrain’s now-elusive, natural pearls.

Like other pearl merchants, Lina eventually made her way to Bahrain.  And as life happens on the island, one day, while she drafted designs, she discovered she sat side-by-side with Bahrain’s preeminent, pearl trader, Mahmood Pearls.

“Your designs are wonderful,” she was told.  “Could you create a line for us featuring Bahraini pearls?”

Lina was thrilled to be invited to build a collection around such legends.

She confided to our group that day, “I never knew how expensive Bahraini pearls were.  And now, after so many oyster beds have been reclaimed, few pearls are big enough to make into necklaces.  A single-strand, pearl necklace is about $40,000.”

No wonder the pearl trader only gave his wife one.

“On a gold chain around her neck, she wore a round white pearl, a gift from his father; it shone like the moon in the night sky.” from The Little Pearl Merchant.

Mahmood Pearls will be debuting Lina’s designs at Jewelry Arabia.  Perhaps you will find your own moon, wrapped in gold, to hang from your neck.

ABOUT JUMAN PEARLS

Since the 1990s, Juman Pearls has found favor with Saudi Arabia’s high-end buyers who seek unique pieces that are not mass-marketed.  Lina also designs for expatriates who are tired of the traditional, 22K gold bangles and want more up-scale treasures.

For the first time, Juman Pearl’s designs will be for sale in Bahrain.  In conjunction with Mahmood Pearls, one of the oldest jewelry companies in Bahrain, Lina created the Arabesque collection with Bahraini pearls set in gold.

Juman Pearl’s showroom is at Desert Designs in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.  The entire Arabesque Collection, featuring cultured pearls set in gold, is on display at the showroom.  The website is www.jumanpearls.com.

ABOUT JEWELRY ARABIA

The biggest jewelry show in the Middle East starts November 19th at the Bahrain Exhibition Center.  Look for Al-Mahmood Pearls.

Over the Rub al Khali

over rub al khali in gulf air jet

Flying over the Rub al Khali, Louise and I flipped through Gulf Air’s September magazine and talked about the articles.  A travel writer, Louise used to be the editor for the magazine.

IMG_5040

There was an article about the Sharabi sisters.  The daughters of an American woman and a Bahraini man, the three women are artists.  Yasmin is the curator at the Waterline Gallery.  She is one of my yoga teachers.  Her husband organizes the increasingly popular, FarmFest concerts.  Recently I texted him after I saw his smiling face featured on a local billboard.

Ah, the small world of Bahrain.

All Slugs Day

slug fest day

“Mom, come quick!” Susan yelled inside the front door.  “You’ve got to see this.”

I ran outside and Susan pointed to base of the small tree in our front yard.

“Slugs!  I’ve seen snails and ant colonies before.  But I’ve never seen slugs in Bahrain.”

Only six days before the official, last day of school.  This week is an endless schedule of packing and good-bye parties.  Next weekend, the airport will be buzzing as the summer exodus reaches its climax.  And although our plane is reportedly transporting us to summer vacation, according to my calendar, July 28th is our only, unscheduled day.

This morning I woke up to a text message suggesting a boy-inspired, spontaneous day at the water park.  I declined.  Today is Friday, the first day of summer, the eve of the super moon, and a day of rest.

Today is slugfest.

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.

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