Friday, 26 March 2010
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
One of the desert images that portray the red-hot desert imprint I wanted to capture is the image of the oil pipes. The futuristic mosque in the background as the top layer of future-desert architecture and terrain, science fiction allah temple, over looking – though from very far away – the pipes through which the black gold streams through. The image is somewhat burned from the overbearing sun, I can only wonder what one would see if the details were more visible. But perhaps the burned blackened area of the emulsion is an element that characterizes the sun, a character within the sprawling space that I hoped to be captured in the first place.
The dhows along Bahrain Financial Harbour corniche:
The red in this series has an effect that goes towards the vintage of sepia which adds to the juxtaposition portrayed in these images, that is the construction of the Bahrain Financial Harbour versus the dhows parked along the corniche as they have been for many, many decades. This juxtaposition though offers, as well as the tip up of the ‘old’, pushing the dhow imagery, a tip towards the alien. The red tone along with the cranes made to look a brighter orange and the unfinished buildings gives it something of a Mars tone. This other-planetness adds to the alienization of the spaces, or the unfamiliarity of these new constructions and the ongoing sci-fi dredge, worry and stress along the coast.
The images from the suq show more in terms of 'realism'. But what is seen is in a novel and somewhat more playful manner. The high colour adds to the pizzaz of the place pictured in a way that a new set of eyes would see it. Any first visit to a place is filled with colours, ideas and details that a regular visitor would probably not notice. The images here, although are playful, play on the exotic elements of the suq, elements that may be local to the everyday visitor or person working in the suq, but are heightened by the mode of photography and the playful gimmick capturing the image.
Looking over these images, it is interesting to see that the experimentation has lent itself to tell the 'story' of the image somewhat more explicitly. The red hot burn of the desert, the conflicting alien-like atmosphere of the Financial Harbour, and the 'exoticness' of the suq, a kind of tourist attraction. Although the colour scale was all the same, red, the colour soaked into the subject accordingly, almost like a tempermentality with the terrain or space it was being blanketed over.
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
Part of Bahrain’s current wave of cultural celebration is coming in the form of new museums being built in old neighborhoods that are brought alive by coffee shops, lectures and readings by various writers and academics from various fields, workshops aiming to teach old crafts and styles to younger generations, and more. This encompasses a move to preserve culture through academia and musiamization, share culture with locals and visitors, and create a cultural basis. Among this effort, coined by some to be a ‘renaissance’ of sorts, is the move to conserve houses of architectural value and open them to visitors to be used as venues for exhibitions, discussions and educational opportunities. The interdisciplinary focus brings together contemporary and folkloric art, literature, craft, architecture, sometimes performance and music, history and so on…
From among the projects going on around Bahrain, the Muharraq trail of houses is among the most complete and coming to be the most reacted to. Old houses in a small area of the neighborhood not far from the Muharraq suq, considerable to be the ‘downtown’ of Muharraq, have been renovated each to be devoted to a different area of Bahraini history or tradition. Among them are: Sheikh Ebrahim House for Research and Literature, Iqra’a Children’s Reading Room, Zayed House for Press History, the Kurar House, and the bin Khalaf Coffee House. Each of these places host events: in the Ebrahim and Zayed houses, there is a talk or reading in either every Monday evening. The Iqra’a House hosts children’s reading sessions three times a week, while the Kurar House frequently holds workshops to teach the art of Kurar, the traditional embroidery that is seen on women’s national dress. The bin Khalaf coffee shop is built in the style of the vintage Bahraini coffee shops with wooden benches serving only tea, tea with milk, chickpeas and fava beans. Their CD players (models that resemble old-school radios) play old school Bahraini music.
Not far from the more closely clustered trail is the bin Mattar House, a majestic old building that was once the home of a pearl merchant. Back in the day, the sea used to reach up to the house that now sits on an urban roundabout. A two-story building, it now has a coffee shop incorporated into the side of three major exhibition spaces. One devoted to temporary contemporary art shows, while the other two are permanent exhibitions on the culture and science of pearls. Old boxes, old written deeds, examples for each of the local words for pearl: the button (flat shaped one), the dana (the largest one), the irregular one, the shiny one, the discoloured one and so on…
Finally, behind the suq is the bin Fares Music Heritage house.
All these houses, once can say, have a degree of interaction with the neighborhood and strong sense towards cultural preservation. The kids who live in the houses surrounding play ball in the alleys as kids back in the day did. Images of the houses before renovation are available for visitors to see. Each of the houses has some sort of traditional interest in it, whether it be in the form of an electronic e-book giving an audio recording of Bahrain’s history in poetic form or the stories read at the Iqra’a house that came from the pearl heritage of Bahrain. The Press house has a large book of copied newspapers since the first ever published in Bahrain, and other such examples for each of the said houses.
There are the elements that one can look from a more critical perspective, such as the idea that renovations are somewhat tricky, as they do not offer the same value as pure restorations. Adding modern touches to well kept architectural structures can remove the aesthetic, the feeling and the originality of the building. Looking at it from the community’s angle, when putting together a museumized experience within a somewhat poorer neighborhood the question does arise as to what does the increase of tourism into a vicinity do for the local residents? Cultural interaction is very valuable, but an economic integration that would add to the upkeep of the neighborhood may also have a valuable reciprocation.
Though these critical looks at projects that have to do with people’s personal values, one can say that there is a measure of success to this project that is quite unique. Walking around the neighborhood one evening, I encountered two women who were also enjoying the breezy alleys. For them, it had a completely different value than it did to me. Firstly, they were much older and thus have lived the times when alleys and buildings were built to maximize the breeze, a natural air conditioner if one may, the original of what this neighborhood is a nostalgic representation of. But further than that, was the fact that they were actually from that very neighborhood.
They were very happy to see what has become of that particular space that carried so much family history for them. The houses, they said, were all made to be quite modern and were unrecognizable to them, but the idea that they could come to the neighborhood, see the children playing in the street and have the area re-conceived as a ‘neighborhood’ that is functioning and inviting, was worth a lot to them. They were from the house that was now replaced with the “water garden”, a waterway that was placed there for beautifying purposes. There was an air of pride to them that conveyed that they were happy with their experience in their new old neighborhood.
The phenomenon of linking personal emotions to museum displays is not one that I have encountered before, in this case there is the odd interception of the current and the historical. This is almost as if we are living in both the future and the past, perhaps most rightly something in between (the present), a present that is something like the doors into a new dimension or life and we are the people who must recover all that is important to us culturally and keep in mind the sensitivities of personal attachments to spaces and artifacts that are evolving into new platforms.
The question, I suppose, in all this is the extent to which things/ideas/culture ought to be museumized in the classic sense of being displayed versus preserving by way of continuing the idea/culture in a more 'natural', interactive or ongoing manner comparable in some ways to this.
Monday, 8 March 2010
At the Saatchi Gallery “Project Room” is a breathtaking feat produced by American artist Emily Prince. My intrigue in this piece was to do with exactly the noble, humble intricacy that she put into the project. She drew a card-sized portrait of each American serviceman/woman who died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. (As there goes the title of the piece: Servicemen and Women Who Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (Not Including the Wounded nor the Iraqis nor the Afghanis)).
Being able to fill the walls of a large room with the cards that she tacked into the wall, and having two large glass cases with her index cards and filed information on each of the servicemen and a newspaper clipping with the photo she had drawn her portrait from, it was really the breadth and care for each individual that took me.
It would be so interesting to be able to see/read a story about each of these people: who they were, why they were in ‘combat’, how they were killed, and what their families think today. It can go on, as each of these servicemen and women have even more to them than being merely the faces symbolizing the bloodshed and futility of war.