Bahrain Artists in Birmingham @ulafaa

The rise of Maliha @ecstaybash

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.

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free Hugs campaign
slow down female walking
three prints
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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



Printed Portraits Opening Evening

Opening charity night was 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.  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.

Steve Ball from the Birmingham REP and Lara’s Mum
Star of the night with Debbie Kermode CEO MAC
With Kelly from the Arts Council
MRs Ratnaraja with Jonnie Turpie

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.

High dressers Phil Howkins and the High SheriffWM 2017

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.  We all joined him and went through the curtains to Gallery 16.

private viewers
Mayor Andy Street by Haseena Lockhat
Anita Bhalla OBE DL in action with her portrait
Ninder has assessed the number of hits on linked, facebook and Twitter of the ‘portrait’ is over 30,000
ninder fb posts
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close up detail go Greg Lowson portrait by FaminaB
Leading with undersheriff Greg Lowson
Mayor Street, HJJ Evand Gordon admire Undersheriff Lowson’s Portrait with Jo Lowson

Haseena with her portrait

Pictures were being sold with all proceeds being donated to the Birmingham Museums Trust.

Jon Andrews and Lucan Grey
Lucan Grey MBE
Lara Ratnaraja
Lalitha and Lara Ratnaraja
enjoying the pictures
High Sheriff 2016 catches up with HHJ Evans Gordon
Dr Keith Bradshaw reads his nameplate
final girls catch up
10 left wall Portraits Featuring Vanley Burke

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.

Printed Portraits Opening Day

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.

discussing anita’s portrait
which is your favourite?








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

Eileen Wright takes 97th Call

Dr Robert Grose Hangs and lights the exhibition


DR Grose slots in frame of The very Rev Catherine Ogle

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.

The exhibition is in the Print Room, Gallery 16 in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 


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