I dropped by the IPS ( International Production Space in Birmingham School of Art) that flowed from pieces from Bahrain Artists presented by the Bahrain based Ulafaa Initiative in the foyer. It is a rewarding show with insights into how young artists are making their voices seen and heard locally and internationally. I asked the curator Tamadher AlFahal about the show’s origins and she invited me to the talk she was presenting (as part of her PHD) that evening and an open invite to a further panel discussion about the cultural production of the Arab Gulf that is happening on the 19th @ 5pm in the IPS :’AS NOTED/UNNOTICED’ a part of “I AM KHALEEJI”; a series of events and happenings that offers prelude to the contemporary art scene of the Arab Gulf.
From the discussions it is clear the art scene “within the Arab Gulf (or GCC) has been through a state of flux. Typically exposed to Western audiences, and the greater art world, as a strongly diluted stereotypical image of the Middle East. The Arab Gulf’s distinctive art identity remains undervalued.
This project addresses the misconceptions of the contemporary art scene in the Gulf, it offers an alternative view that is diverse, unique and vernacular in attempt to understand its complexity and dynamics. Specifically focusing on shedding light on the Gulf art scene as a distinctive voice within the Middle East. “
Issues of identity, religion, gender are clear in the work on show, but the range of video, photography, graphic and printed artworks are strong in their own right. There are plays with sign posts (literally) and the two photographic/print based pieces – The rise of Maliha @ecstasybash and My Ghutra is Me @stefanistan deal directly with issues of personal image and identity in clever, creative and insightful ways. ‘Maliha : a Name meaning having beauty, kindness and strength’ and ‘Ghutra’ the traditional male headress and as one of the subjects told the artist : ‘the eyes are the window on the soul, but first tell me how you wear your ghutra and I will tell you who you are……’ Both pieces are portrait based although the whole portrait is not shown in either works.
@ecstasybash’ instagram bio is understated : “Photographer , Slightly Artistic, mildly photographic”. Her website also provides further insight into the inspirations for The rise of Maliha.
The show is also referred to By the Book @ulafaa
About the Speakers for the upcoming panel on the 19th October:
Khulod Albugami is an artist and an academic member at the College of Art & Design, Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University in Saudi Arabia since 2011. She is currently doing her PhD in Fine Art at Birmingham City University, UK. In her research, she investigates the possibility to formulate different approaches, where art and spatial practices can be used for social empowerment by women in Saudi Arabia. Her main area of interest and research are cultural production in Saudi Arabia and its impacts on creative spaces made by women.
Quentin de Pimodan works as an analyst at Katch & Reyners, a public affairs agency. He studied engineering in Paris and then for several years worked for a French publishing house that aims at explaining national and international administrations to young audiences. He spent a year in Yemen in 2008 and was based in Bahrain for two years in 2014 where he co-authored “The Khaleej Voice”, a six books series documenting the urban artists in the six countries composing the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). He also contributes to Greece-based think-tank, the Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS), with a particular focus on Iraq.
Amal Khalaf is the Assistant Curator of the Serpentine Gallery’s Edgeware Road Project, an international residency and site-specific research programme based in the Edgeware Road neighbourhood of London. Amal curatorial and research activities address themes of urbanism, community media activism and art through participatory projects and media initiatives. In her work as a researcher and curator, she has been involved in collaborative programming with artists and community groups in London and Cairo, in addition to running activities ranging from screenings, performances, seminar series and conferences. Previously, she worked at Gasworks, London, the Townhouse Gallery, Cairo and Al Riwaq Gallery, Bahrain, as well as co-founding Hold and Freight, London, a project space based in an abandoned Victorian railway arch. Khalaf is also a Research Associate with the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, co-authoring a book on moving image in public space.
Anthony Downey is Professor of Visual Culture in the Middle East and North Africa within the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media at Birmingham City University. Recent publications include Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a bullet: The Works of Hiwa K (Walther König Books, 2017); Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East (Sternberg Press, 2016); Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (I.B. Tauris, 2015); and Art and Politics Now (Thames and Hudson, 2014).
Tamadher AlFahal is a Designer, TEDx Speaker and Co-founder of Ulafa’a Initiative; a reconciliation-through-the-arts project. Her practice extends from community art projects to installations. She sheds light on areas of cultural conflicts and religious misconceptions influenced by her upbringing in the Arab world. She also co-founded Beige and Teal with artist Leon D., a creative platform for art and design that celebrates social and cultural narratives of Bahrain. Her main areas of interest are cultural identity, art collaboration and the creative process. Tamadher is currently doing her PhD in Birmingham City University, UK where she investigates philosophical approaches in contemporary Islamic design studies.
Opening night and the front of house debrief and prep for the Private view introduced by Dr Ellen Mcadam the Director of the Museum and Art Gallery and the High Sheriff of the West Midlands 2017 John Hudson OBE DL.
Before the speeches there was much networking and chatting to do. It seemed that the star of the show was Lara Ratnaraja’s Mother who had been excited about the event since Lara invited her as her +1. At every turn she was posing with another guest.
When we launched the exhibition Dr Mcadam gave a warm welcome to the Shrieval gathering and the growing positive relationship between the West Midlands Shrievalty and the the Museum Trust as they both have historic value to the city and region. She was also vey happy to encourage the purchasing of prints from the show as all proceeds will go to supporting the Museum Trust. John Hudson gave a very warm welcome to the assembled audience and a brief insight into the role of the shrievalty in England and in the West Midlands. He pointed out that he was surprised to meet someone as well turned out as himself in black and silver. He was of course referring to Phil Hawkins from Hodge Hill who has a portrait in the exhibition as a worthy winner of the Bromford Estate local heroes.
We concluded with an acknowledgment that there had been another historic event the previous week – the election of the first ever Metro Mayor for the West Midlands – Mr Andy Street CBE – and that Mayor Street had made the time to attend the opening and come see his portrait. So we all joined him and went through the curtains to Gallery 16.
Pictures were being sold with all proceeds being donated to the Birmingham Museums Trust.
There waere not many opportunities for visitors to get back from the walls to see the portraits in their ordered lines, however groupings gathered around pictures to cast judgement -all very positive. To see the portraits click the gallery below or actually go to Gallery 16 in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
May 10 th arrives and the 30 Printed Portraits will be revealed to all and those who feature on the walls of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
In the morning I was attending to final details including briefing the wonderful front of house team and remaking the nameplates with larger type and a Shrieval coat of arms. A gentleman came into the space and after a while focussing on the pictures I asked what he thought. He had seen the exhibition advertised on the BMAG Whats on listings and had travelled in especially from Telford in Shropshire to see it.
We talked about the how he is semi retired and visits galleries near and far to get a sense of artists work close up. We discussed portraits, photography, art before taking a picture of each other. He asked if he could take my picture in front of the Portrait of Eileen Wright as it is his favourite because of the ‘glint in her eye at her age’, as well as the big buttons on the phone she used to take he 97th birthday call.
Mike had been to the TATE in Liverpool to see the Rossetti Monna Vanna portrait and had taken a celebratory picture. I pointed out that next door in Gallery 17 is a beautiful picture by Rossetti of Beatrix. He thanked me and went to see it, quickly returning with glee and after one last tour of the portraits made his comment in the book.
As the normal viewing day came to a close a group of women came into Gallery 16. They viewed the portraits with interest and consideration, sharing their views to each other about the portraits and the subjects. They enthusiastically reflected, and nominated their top three! Top of their favourites was Eileen Wright.
I heard later that evening at the private view that as they left the Museum they met Eileen’s daughter and husband on the gallery entrance doorsteps and eulogised about the portrait exhibition and in particular the one of the older lady making her birthday phone call. Wonderful
There are many clever, precise skills and crafts required to hang a 30 frame exhibition. Especially as I wanted a very aligned approach. Getting the balance right between the 3 different sizes of frames to provide an equality of status for each portrait, while a unity across the 4 walls was a priority that Dr Rob achieved to perfection with his attention to detail at every stage. Rob also suggested not using the traditional ‘mirror clips’ to hang the show, but to use security picture fixings. These have the benefit of being hidden from the view as the frames ‘magically’ hang on the wall. In addition the spring locks are secure and prevent the frames being removed with out the ‘special lever. Lawrence at the Framers was able to supply.
Click on the gallery below to see pictures of the process.
Dr Rob Top tip : If the walls are not necessarily flat – you end up with rocking pictures. This can be remedied with a slice of cork behind the frame, but it can become uneven to look at on the oblique view which matters if the galleries are big.