I graduated from art school in 2008 and during that period, Western Art History was the epitome of all Art! In 2011 I decided to move to Berlin. There, I noticed how the ‘Banal’ art movement morphed into a form of Art, deeply immersed in ordinary life as a ‘Fact’ in the pursuit of knowledge, where knowing is an appetite that is never satiated. I often wonder why western civilisation is susceptible to the insatiable thirst for more knowledge, the constant defining and redefining of their culture and identity as we so often witness even to this day.
November 2011 I was a guest visitor at the UDK to show my portfolio along with some other students enrolled in an MFA class mentored by one of the more prominent German Artists’. Each artist had to explain their work in depth and skillfully articulate how/why his or her work stood up to the test of European art history. Many things amazed me. One video was of a live fish being boiled to death in a transparent fish bowl – however, there was one student in particular who I will never forget, because through him I have come to know myself!
He had found terracotta coloured ordinary plastic potting planters filled with soil (the kind you find in any yard) which held small-inflated colourful balloons from the supermarket. For about 45 minutes, the artist insistently and eloquently elaborated on information I cannot recall. But what I do recall is the feeling of bargaining a deal with words selling his invention as powerful and valuable. The MFA group actively engaged in this critique of balloons and garden pots. I stood there stupefied. I had travelled all the way from Bahrain searching for the profound, I had a mind full of the Arab Spring events, which had just taken place in Bahrain, and thoughts about why I wanted to spend the rest of my life making art. Something did not feel right: in that moment I was extremely uneasy. At some point the voices dimed in my mind and my eyes were staring straight at those balloons as I observed the student’s intense fight to reward meaning, wisdom and intellectuality to banal objects disconnected from each other and ordinary life. And a voice inside me screamed:. “This is Bull Shit!”
Until that point I had seen myself as a ‘Outsider’ - someone who had to submit to the historiography of art and its Eurocentric farrago, where the function of European ways of examining the world is as a pathway for modernity, especially in the GCC. I don’t think this is something art can escape from in international circles because art, at its core, is deeply connected to Europe’s history. But the real question I asked myself was: What am I willing to Give up about myself, my culture, traditions, religion etc. to be at peace with the total banality in art, realising that there is a limit to how far I can associate myself to this particular style of intellectualism. The cost of standing, pretending that a balloon in a pot is conceptualising the grandeur of European intellectualism at the UDK Master’s degree program - is extremely frustrating. But the story does not end here!
Now it was my turn to show my work! Everyone was silent. As images of my works slid past the screen, some scoffed and some laughed at me. I was mortified, my soul felt paralyzed and there was no dialogue; I was a spectacle in the silence. At the end, the lecturer/ mentor, in a condescending manner as if he was trying to protect an infant’s feelings, “You are a personal Artist” he told me! “You make art about yourself’. I thought about those words for years.
Rene Huyghe, had something to say about the conception of art which is close to that of Ernst Gombrich,
“Art is an essential function of man, indispensable to the
individual and to societies, and that is imposed upon them as a
necessity from prehistoric origins. Art and man are inseparable.
There is no art without man, but perhaps there is also no man
without art.” (Rene Huyghe, 1998, p.11) (Man referring to Humanbeing)
"What we call 'work of art' is not the result of a mysterious activity but an
object made by human beings for human beings" (Ernst Gombrich,1999, p.32).
When I read those quotes I read it from the lens of a person from the GCC. Where I come from, being human is an eternal concept, it doesn’t stop at death. There is an integrity to being a human, which is past its moving corpse, and this brings a lot of stability to how I observe my social interactions. It also creates a limit to how much I can adapt – a conflict I was now able to define and resolve. An emptiness is created when I subject myself to solely rational artworks materialised by non cohesive objects. To me, they provoke the degenerate aspect of our humanity, extracting ‘Identity’ from all things that end in death. The capacity to recognize this in myself, originates from the social and religious aspect of my culture and shapes how I relate to Art.
Therefore, in reaction to those events at the UDK, I allowed myself to journey out of the postmodern provocation, where the artist is an interrogator of mass culture, and into Art as an experience of beauty; as I did before art school. It was an experience of returning to a place that I had been separated from. So as a result, dear friends, “Victory” was born.
"The Victory" Bahrain Pavilion in the 55th Venice Biennale 2013 .
Collection of National Museum, Bahrain 2013 and permanent display at the National Theatre of Bahrain since 2017
800cm x 300cm Charcoal drawing