Bahrain Art Across Borders (BAAB), a major new arts initiative designed to showcase Bahraini art for a global audience. In 2016 it announced its selection of 17 artists  who took their works to be exhibited in London in April. BAAB is a project of Art Select (brand of Art and Spice), the art investing and consultancy firm which launched the Art Bahrain fair last year. The project received Tamkeen’s support, a semi-government organisation contributing towards making Bahrain’s private sector the key driver of economic growth.In 2017 the Kingdom of Bahrain ran another art fair. One of its participants, Oleg Olenev from the Tsekh gallery (Kyiv-Vilnius), provided us with the first-hand account of the fair.

Bahrain Contemporary Art fair is held under the patronage of the country’s top officials, who consider it their obligation to help artists find their audience, buyers, and, above all — to lay the foundations for future generations of emerging artists. During March 23-26 the International Exhibition & Convention Centre in Manama, the Kingdom of Bahrain, hosted the second contemporary art fair Bahrain Art Across Borders 2017 (BAAB 2017), curated by the team of British experts led by Alistair Hicks, Jonathan Watkins and David Hawkins. The fair enjoys the exclusive patronage of the Queen consort of Bahrain. This year BAAB 2017 had an immense popularity among the locals and became a major focus of the public attention in the Persian Gulf region. 

Becoming increasingly aware of the importance of contemporary art f

His Excellency Sh Mohammed Bin Isa Al Khalifa, economical and political advisor for the Crownprince of Bahrain with Kanika Subberwal. Courtesy Oleg Olenev

or the economy and the image of the country, not only Her Royal Majesty, but also other high-ranking officials personally visited the fair, drawing the crowds of visitors. Some of them visited the stands and occasionally showed interest towards and preference for certain works of art. It is a welcome sign for contemporary art, for the general public follows the tastes of the elite and celebrities. It is a welcome sign that the Kingdom of Bahrain makes efforts to embrace contemporary art, even though some of its forms make take years to be accepted and understood.  As for ourselves, we were very happy for the artists,  such as Mykola Bilous who stood out due to his innovative method of harmonising colours, or Yevhen Petrov with his  extraordinary watercolours.

The whole exhibition space was arranged in three sections: personal stands of Bahrain contemporary artists, stands representing 11 galleries from around the world and video art installations translated on more than 10 wide screens. Video art by China`s Cao Fei — and even more by the Japanese Shimabuku and Estonian Flo Kasearu —  took up almost a third of the exhibition space in the centre, providing some emotional overtones to the contemporary spirit of the art fair. The exquisite oriental landscapes and abstractions, some portraits, paintings of animals beconed the visitors, sometimes only to appear, on close inspection, to follow the manner of  Damien Hirst: one could especially say so about the images of  horses designed in different materials and techniques.

This was the second edition of the fair, and in contrast to such contemporary art fairs  as Positions Berlin, Barcelona International Art Fair or Rotterdam Contemporary, BAAB 2017  could boast of being perfectly managed and organised: one cannot help but praise the team’s work, assistance provided by volunteers or the opportunity offered to the participating artists to manage their own personal stands. And the lights team was also very professional. 

The view of the Tsekh gallery stand. Courtesy Oleg Olenev.

In terms of participation and attendance, BAAB 2017 proved to be on an equal footing with Art Dubai. In addition to galleries from India and Asian countries, contemporary galleries and artists from Oman, The United Arab Emirates and even Syria took part in the fair.  The galleries from Europe were represented by the Maddox Gallery (London, UK), TSEKH  (Kyiv-Vilnius, Ukraine-Lithuania), David Risley Gallery (Copenhagen, Denmark), Temnikova & Kasela (Tallinn, Estonia) and Charraudeau (Paris, France). Simultaneously, the art fair has demonstrated that the galleries from the Eastern Europe are few and far between,  despite the fact that they represented vibrant, creative and innovative artists.   

The prices for art were comparable to the average European ones. Substantial purchases were made by corporate and private collectors: thus, a number of artworks from the TSEKH gallery found their new home in several private collections in Bahrain. The event also attracted overseas businessmen working in the region. Throughout the fair the curators ran  numerous workshops and panel discussions, one of them focussing on the state of the art market today.

 

In conclusion, the very fact of its own existence and the support of the government on very high levels, makes us feel optimistic about  Art Bahrain and its future editions. We believe it to be a  great achievement for the whole region and Bahrain in particular. 

(The author of the article expresses his gratitude to the Kingdom of Bahrain, Manama and the International Exhibition Center for their cordial hospitality and warm welcome.)