Taking Bahrain’s thriving art scene to a global audience
Art and business have always had an uneasy relationship, but are inextricably linked. Artists, like everybody else, need to earn their crust – and that means selling their work or taking commissions. But for Kaneka Subberwal, an Indian national living in Bahrain, this relationship is not uneasy at all. In fact it’s part and parcel of the art world and is something to be developed – and even celebrated – rather than hidden away. It’s also a way of breathing new life into the art scene. This is something that Subberwal has proven in Bahrain, a country she has called home for more than a decade.
Subberwal created ArtSelect, a gallery and art investment initiative in 2005 but moved the business to Bahrain in 2008 and shifted the firm’s focus from South Asian art to Bahraini artists. The move was borne partly from a desire to understand Bahrain’s art scene and help develop it. Having already managed galleries in Dubai, Subberwal was acquainted with art in the Gulf but also had a hunger to learn more.
For the first two years of operations in Bahrain, Subberwal acquired art works and held on to them for various lengths of time before selling them. This gave Subberwal and her team a good understanding of the ratio of Bahraini art that could generate genuine commercial value.
Just a decade on from refocusing ArtSelect on Bahrain, it has grown into a company that represents the artists of Bahrain and helps present their work to buyers, while simultaneously promoting and celebrating Bahraini art. The company’s flagship project is Art Bahrain Across Borders (ArtBAB), which is the kingdom’s top international art fair. This was established in 2015 after some two years of research about Bahraini artists and their needs.
“Bahrain has perhaps the largest database of practicing artists. In 2015, when we launched ArtBAB, we committed ourselves to the growth, awareness, communication and development of the art and artisanal strength of Bahrain. Our vision is to communicate the strength of Bahrain and articulate skillsets across borders,” Subberwal says. “Nothing gives us greater satisfaction than the fact that since ArtBAB started, the sales of Bahraini art has risen by 149% and Bahraini artists’ works feature in the collections of prestigious galleries, museums and portfolios of discerning collectors around the world.”
In 2015, ArtBAB received the patronage of HRH Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, wife of the King of Bahrain. The show is also supported by strategic partner, Tamkeen, Bahrain’s human resource development agency that sees it as a platform to market the creativity of Bahraini artists.
ArtBAB takes place from March 6 to 10, 2019 and the fourth edition will showcase ‘Artisans Across Borders’ which is a platform to engage with Bahrain’s craftsmen to transform Bahraini handicrafts into chic collectibles. Meanwhile, the parallel programme, ‘Artists Across Borders’, has been taking Bahraini artists to London (V&A, Saatchi Gallery, Lancaster House), Moscow (Cosmoscow Art Fair), Paris (Grand Palais & Gallery Rabouan Moussion), India (Bikaner House, Delhi) and the latest showcase in Singapore’s Museum of Contemporary Arts. “It’s an exciting time,” says Subberwal.
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