So I decided to check out the First Heritage Festival that is taking place in Sanabis, and it's turning out to be great. There are many many artists, men and women, working away on their murals. Pretty much all of the different artistic schools are represented, and all sorts of interesting ideas expressed. Asides from the actual artwork, the atmosphere was great with people of all different ages and nationalities present. It's a great idea as I think Bahrain needs many more of such events.
One of the things that struck me was that all of the Bahraini art that I have come across so far has been fixated on notions of a historic and traditional Bahrain: men in white thobes, faceless women in black abayas, coffee pots, minarets, old wooden doors, camels, dhows. Admittedly, this particular exhibition is after all a "Heritage Festival" so it makes sense that the murals being painted contain icons and symbols of traditional Bahrain. However that still doesn't explain why all the rest of Bahraini artists restrict themselves to this theme. Where are the representations of Seef Mall, and fast cars, guys with gel dripping from their hair, and super-stylish girls in abayas, internet cafes, shawarmas and gahwas? What about Filipina and Sri Lankan housemaids, Indian and Bangladeshi labourers, European and American white-collar workers? I think all of these things are certainly part of Bahraini culture, so one would expect them to be represented in at least some Bahraini art in some way.
While at the event I took the opportunity to question a few of the artists on this issue, but most of them responded saying that my understanding was incorrect and that there did exist Bahraini art about modern Bahraini culture. But there was one Indian painter among the artists -- even he was painting a picture of traditional Bahrain. When I questioned him on the matter he gave what I see as the most honest answer. He said:
"I'm painting about the old Bahrain because that is what people want to see. The modern Bahraini culture is around us everywhere today for us to see. Wherever people go they are forced to see modern Bahrain, but they want to remember the old Bahrain. I am painting a memory."That makes sense, and it seems quite obvious now. There is certainly something about the old Bahrain that we miss now, more than ever. Even if we never directly experienced the things represented in the paintings, the symbols that are utilized make us recall a cherished time of the past in Bahrain. Representations of the traditional Arabic coffee pot are not meant to remind us of the days that we supposedly drank coffee from such pots. Rather, it indicates to the audience that we are dealing with melancholic memories of Bahrain, whatever that might be.
Taking this idea further, does thats suggest that most people in Bahrain long for a previous era? Or is it that we are worried about forgetting it? Hmmm... I don't think I've interpreted this properly... well...
Anyways, the exhibition runs till Thursday so do go down. When I left the site today, the acclaimed artist Abbas al-Mousawi was just about to start his mural, so that is to look forward to also. Finally, if you're wondering where it is, it's right on Budaiya Highway near the junction with Sanabis Avenue . If you're coming from Budaiya then look on your left, and if you're coming from Manama then it will be on your right... you can't miss it.