Preserving a Legacy
Exploring the growth of cultural mediums with Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (BACA) Director of Culture and Arts,
HE Sheikha Hala bint Mohammed Al Khalifa.
What do you believe can be done to further boost the culture scene in bahrain?
We are lucky to see an evolving art scene in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Art and culture are the backbone of any thriving society, and we in Bahrain have an extensive cultural agenda, both in the government and the private sector. I believe what would allow more growth and structured progress is opening more educational programs that specialise in formal art education. Allowing our youth to obtain degrees in different fields like, art, archaeology, and museum studies would create an immediate positive impact. For me, personally, I am always looking out for young graduates who can join our cultural inclination and help with the progress of our diverse projects and programs. It’s vital to have many fields of the art to be taken as a serious educational path, and later to support, maintain, and progress the cultural and historic fabric of our country.
You are an artist at heart. Do you still dedicate time to your craft amid the busy schedule? Are there any artwork projects you can share with us?
Art for me is a passion, and I consider myself to be extremely lucky to be able to work in an institution that plays a major role in the development of the art scene in Bahrain. Personally, I feel that my work feeds into my progress as an artist, as I am constantly involved in exhibitions, and publications that focus on art. This line of work allows my growth and exposure to be constant, and it definitely feeds into my personal creative expression. My days could get very hectic, and my work obligations can be very time consuming, but I have maintained a habit to keep an art journal with me everywhere I go. This allows me to write, sketch, and think of new projects and themes that I wish to explore. For any creative person, writing and sketching on a daily basis allows the hand and mind to be always alert. I do make sure that I commit myself to participate in group exhibitions, and to always set a target to work on a solo show. My last solo was at Athr Gallery in Jeddah in 2016, the title of the exhibition was “She wore her scars like wings”. In that body, I explored themes that focused of healing and self-growth. I’m now working on a new body of work, for my upcoming solo exhibition in December at Bin Mattar House in Muharraq. The exhibition is titled “Fate”, and it looks into themes of escape, and the struggle to find a safe haven particularly highlighting the struggles of migrants by sea. I’m challenging myself to work on a very large scale this time. The exhibition will have paintings and an installation art work that explores this harsh topic.
What has influenced you the most as an artist? What inspires you?
I am influenced in many of the topics I chose to work on themes that relate to emotions, particularly struggle and pain. I am not a happy artist, and most of my themes may have tones of sorrow and heaviness, but I am a firm believer that without pain, we cannot understand happiness, and for us to grow there needs to be struggle of some sort. I feel that art is a tool to express, and for us to give out our message and share it with others, we have to touch on topics that could resonate and allow audiences to reflect and interpret. I am inspired by many things. It’s life experiences that allow us growth. I’m inspired by beauty, struggles, by stories of courage and by so many things that we are blessed with. It’s hard to name what inspires me the most, but I’m thankful that I have a medium which allows me to share and highlight my thoughts. Words and art are two powerful means of expression.
Do you think bahrain has a thriving art community today? And how do we encourage this community to grow?
I mentioned previously the important role of education. This element plays a major role in the development of the scene, allowing it to grow and thrive. I’m a believer that there is always room for improvement. Growth comes with exposure and allowing creative minds to share - dialogue and critique is key. Openness towards listening to how to improve ideas is a million times more beneficial than praise. I would love to see more curators working alongside artists to help them achieve their goals.
Baca’s main interest is preserving our heritage, but some would argue that a country can’t reconcile its past and future without losing its identity. What do you say to those people? Can a country embrace the changes of the future while still being true to its original identity?
We are blessed to be on a land that holds a rich legacy of our ancient history. We are surrounded by historic sites that map the wealth of our lands. Excavation teams, until our present day, unfold treasures that tell the story of so many ancient civilizations that have left memorable and priceless marks. History and heritage are the main elements that create the identity of a nation. We at Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquity hold this value as the main pillar of our institution’s mission. Preservation is key, but we also work on the development of this legacy. Working on listing important historic sites under the UNESCO World Heritage, like the Bahrain Fort, and the Pearling Path which is due to open in November this year, marks a huge achievement for the Kingdom of Bahrain. Next year, Aali Mounts’ nomination file will be presented to the WHC, and we are hopeful and looking forward to receiving the third inscription on the world heritage sites list. Having said that, there is also the constant challenge to bring heritage to a contemporary audience, and this month, through the Paris Design Week, we have an exciting participation which highlights the ancient craft of pottery. Pottery where young designers works with the potters in Aali to work on new designs, combining the clay with metal and copper. This experiment took place two years ago during the Dubai Design Week and have also involved the community by creating an online platform, allowing people to design their own pots, and be part of this project. The Design Week Paris participation falls under a special exhibition called 1000 Vases, which highlights many participations from different art and culture institutions and designers.
If you had to identify the biggest challenge in your role at baca so far, what would it be?
Challenge is a part of any life, and to achieve any project whether big or small, we are always faced with challenges. I can’t share one particular or biggest challenge. I’m able to say that any challenge creates a dimension of creativity to solve, and get over any hurdle that we face. I believe there is a solution to any problem, and it’s important to stay true to one’s own objectives and goals. As for one challenge that we all face in our current time, it is to find creative ways to receive the desired sponsorship to help create programs and projects. We are lucky to be working under the guidance of HE Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, President of the Authority for Culture and Antiquities, who created and launched the Invest in Culture Initiative, allowing the patrons of the arts and culture, as well as the private sector, to support a wide range of projects with our institution. HE Sheikha Mai is a firm believer that there is always a solution. She is always aiming towards excellence to showcase the wealth of our Kingdom with culture as a strong tool that promotes Bahrain on both a local and international scale.
What would you consider to be the proudest achievement of your career?
I cannot assess myself or state a certain achievement. This can be valued by others, not myself. I know that my professional role is a passion, and my career path falls under what I love to do. Being part of BACA and working to support the growth of our cultural scene. It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together. It’s not a job that fills time, or an obligation. It’s an important part of my life.
What should we look forward to next from baca? Are there more programs or festivals planned? And are there any particular areas baca wants to focus on?
The opening of the Pearling Path, as I mentioned previously, is the main highlight of this year. This project is a testimony of the pearling trade, and it carries within it the huge importance of the preservation of history and heritage. Also, we will soon be approaching the International Music Festival in October. This year, as Muharraq is Capital of Islamic Culture, the music festival will host a wide range of performances from Arab and Islamic countries, allowing us share with all our audience the rich and diverse music styles, from Al Maqam – which is a distinctive song and music performance from Iraq – to Syrian songs from the heart of Aleppo, and passing through other nations, exploring the wealth of music from Arab and Islamic countries. In addition to this, there is all our annual programs and festivals and exhibitions that will explore new themes and open new mediums for a cultural exchange through intellectual, educational, and creative dialogue.