To anyone who has spent even a little time in Bahrain recently, they would probably be familiar with, or have been taken to the now pretty famous closed shop in the old Manama souq to stand against it and take some pictures.
The abandoned shop’s door was taken over by Bahraini artist Ahmed Anan as an art installation. In the artist’s mind, he was asking the question “why” the shop was closed? The artist artfully depicts various characters tying to get the open the closed and shuttered shop; from one scaling the door to the air conditioning opening, to another trying to unlock the padlock.
This shop has become a landmark in the souq and many people make a point to try to find it to enjoy its art and take some pictures.
If you haven’t seen it, this is what it looks like:
I fell in love with the work the moment I stumbled across it a few of years ago. I had since taken many of my friends and visitors to that door to enjoy and take some pictures with it as a background.
I only recently discovered that the artist who painted it was Mr Ahmed Anan. However, I never had the pleasure of meeting him.
Lo and behold, he gets introduce to me at my photography exhibition at Mashq Art Space while he was admiring my picture of his door which is placed in the centre of my installation! That was such a nice surprise.
I wanted to know more about his work and asked him a few questions. I soon got immersed in his story and wanted to archive it for posterity. So I quickly whipped out my iPhone to video the interview. And here it is, enjoy:
You can buy my limited edition print of “Why 56” from artprints.me. Click here to get a framed and signed limited edition high quality art print.
I consider my photography exhibition currently at Mashq Art Space entitled A Global Perspective as my first “real” exhibition. I’m happy with the impact it has had and the number of visitors who have dropped in. I’m also thrilled to have received some valuable feedback and comments from visitors. I highly value their opinions.
I also want to make it clear that I am not discounting the smaller exhibition I have held at More Words Pop-up Shop. Not in the least. In fact, it was an excellent experience regardless of the number of people who actually visited. Seeing my photographs displayed on their wall was a good feeling of success. I would not hesitate to exhibit there again.
The best part of having an exhibition of my work is of course meeting a variety of people and having the opportunity to listen to them comment and even critique my work. I have been taking pictures since I was six, and apart from the customer virtual venues of my websites and the various other photography platforms I have tried over the years, I have never exhibited my work. This has now changed and I’m already thinking of future themes and pictures I can exhibit at physical venues. I didn’t expect it to be this much fun!
I dedicate both of these exhibitions to the memory of my late father, the great Bahraini pioneering artist Nasser Al-Yousif, who nurtured my talent and supported me in every way he could.
My interest in photography all started when I asked my father how was a photograph made. That was when I was six or seven years old I think. He explained it simplistically to me by saying that you put something called a negative on paper, then shine a light on it and the positive picture will come out on the paper.
Little did he know that I discussed this with my cousin Mohammed and I found one of dad’s negatives, got a piece of paper and we both sat on the stairs in our old home in the sun, exposing the negative and the paper to the sun. We sat there for ages and kept checking the paper for any hint of a picture developing. We even convinced ourselves that it was working! I can’t remember whether dad saw us sitting there on the stair in the sun when he came back home from work – he was a teacher at that time – or that I had gone to him with the negative and paper complaining that we sat there all day and nothing happened. But that experience resulted in my dad buying me my first camera.
And that’s how my passion for photography started.
A few years later, he even built me a dark room in a corner of his studio and bought me the projector and the chemicals so I started developing my own films. Photography has been part of me since then.
I kept my photography to myself until I got to high school where I suggested to the principal Mr Alsammak that I could start a photography club at the school – partly to get away from the hated physical education class which I felt was a waste of time! – and he agreed. He asked me what I needed and I gave him a list of equipment which he got supplied through the Ministry of Education and provided us with a room that we converted into a working darkroom. I got a few fellow students interested and that’s how the first photography club in a Bahraini school started.
I continued taking pictures and I think we exhibited some of our work at school functions and even participated in international competitions which we got to know about through photography magazines.
At university in Scotland, photography was an entrenched passion. The beauty of Scotland provided all the necessary inspiration to continue to take photographs at every opportunity I had. I constantly travelled all over Scotland with the goal of taking more pictures. I used to look forward to weekends so that I can go visit a loch or a farm or just a village or city to take pictures. I loved that time and have thousands of slides to prove it.
Once I retuned home after university I continued to practice photography and participated in the first photography exhibition by the Bahrain Art Society and one of my photographs won second place, and another won a consolation prize. I remember that my winning picture called Red Street – a long exposure of the in-construction highway going to Saudi. The long exposure and the street lights combined to provide a halo of red which was beautiful and etherial. That photograph was purchased by Shaikh Rashid Alkhalifa, and it was the very first picture I have ever sold. The consolation prize was a picture of the Bahrain Fort at Moonrise and it is actually exhibited now at the current exhibition. I love the purple hue of the picture and its a good documentary picture of how the fort used to be before it was renovated.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to exhibit again. This too was a chance encounter. I was visiting my brother Jamal’s (whose birthday is tomorrow, happy birthday bro!) excellent exhibition at Mashq Art Space when its owner artist and calligrapher Ali Albazzaz approached me to have a chat. I suggested that I would like to see my work exhibited at his space, half jokingly at the time. He responded by saying that he has a slot in April and for me to send him a portfolio to have a look at. I sent him a portfolio I created earlier and he accepted to provide me an exhibition slot.
I was thrilled. I was going to have my first photography exhibition!
Unfortunately he informed me later that the slot was no longer available. So as I had my portfolio ready, and at the encouragement of my wife, I sent it to Words which they accepted immediately, and I met with them to make the arrangements and agree on the other parameters.
I proceeded to print my portfolio and got the photographs framed in time for the exhibition at More Words which took place from 11 – 14 April 2018. As I was making the final arrangements, I got another call from Ali who informed me that the slot at Mashq was available again if I wanted it. That put me in a quandary. I had already committed to Words and I knew that if I accept Mashq’s slot – which is from 15 – 23 April – it will confuse people who might like to visit, and will also present a challenge for advertising both!
Me being me, I didn’t want to squander the opportunity and accepted both. I threw myself at the job of printing a bigger selection for Mashq as the space is quite larger than Words, and ran around ensuring that everything was taken care of.
I’m glad with how everything worked out in the end. Both experiences were valuable and both have now prepared me for future exhibitions which I am determined to do.
If you have a chance, please drop by Mashq until 23 April. I normally am there from around 7pm having their excellent chai karak and meeting with fellow photographers, artists and guests.
They will also be screening my film Triumph of Insight tomorrow night (18.4.18) at 8.30pm which will be followed by a question and answer session with me.
A photograph is a deeply intimate look at the subject being photographed; it is a discovery of the person behind the lens too. Through specially curated photographs by Mahmood Al-Yousif we get a glimpse of the artist beyond his blogging fame. These photographs were taken over several years in locations from Seoul, South Korea to Vancouver Island, BC, Canada, and Moscow to Cape Town in South Africa and through them Mahmood shares his love of people, nature, customs and traditions.
Art is in the eye of the beholder. True. No one can define what is and what is not art either as it is a very subjective and emotive thing.
To me, art must serve a purpose. And it must raise more questions than provide answers. It is this particular faculty that elevates a society; when even just one person within it starts questioning accepted norms as a result of witnessing, interacting or engaging with art.
Will society change because of this occurrence? Maybe. The butterfly effect might take years to accumulate the momentum necessary to effect change, but those little reverberations are needed to start the process. Those frequencies are amplified by art. Mature art. One that compels its observers to ask the difficult questions.
That was not the case with the latest exhibition at the Art Centre by the National Museum.
Nashaz – an Arabic word signifying the lack of harmony between sounds – is an exhibition by a group of Bahraini creatives who produced “art installations reflecting dissonance in societies through social norms and attitudes often overseen in daily lives” but falls short of its title and objectives, simply because all the exhibits are predictable, lack depth and sophistication and are glaringly obvious. None of the art displayed prompts a question in a viewer’s mind, and most certainly don’t provide any answers either.
I left acutely aware of the immaturity of the experience, and honestly wishing them well in their future.
The artists participating in this display shouldn’t feel dismayed though, and they most certainly celebrate this failure. Taking this as constructive criticism, they might well evolve into more sophisticated artists at some point in the future whose art can actually serve a purpose other than just filling space.
Life is a series of rituals. This is ours. This is our Friday.
Frances and I spend the day together and walk in Bahrain City Centre normally – for those not from this area, people can’t walk outside especially in the summer, and malls are big enough, interesting enough, and very importantly are air conditioned so it makes the exercise worth it. While walking, we enjoy talking, window shopping, shopping and meeting with friends we encounter. It’s a nice few hours spent together.
The film was shot entirely on an iPhone 7. It turned out that its auto focus is challenged in this shooting environment. I chose to shoot through the main camera lens rather than the front-facing one. The phone was mounted on a selfie-stick or hand-held. With filming through the primary lens, there is no way for me to see the screen so I had to best guess or trust the system would focus properly. That didn’t work, but the results are acceptable enough.
In the future I’ll have to find a way to lock focus or get a cameraman to do those required shots. I did ask a couple of people at location to help and their shots (OTS, the two of us walking away) were obviously much better than holding the phone at an unknown angle on a selfie stick facing backwards.
Ebrahim Busaad is one of my favourite human beings on earth. His art is a close second as I do love his particular distinctive style in storytelling through his paintings and prints.
Ebrahim was one of my father’s best friends, if not his very best friend. They were inseparable and have remained in contact with each other until my father passed away. Busaad was clearly influenced by my dad from an intellectual points of view. He shared with him the love of simplicity in art and that art – any art – must be genuine to endure.
Art to them both was not a happenstance, but a labour and toil of thought and research and love which must all be invested in the canvas, for only then, they believed, would that piece come to life with its own soul which carries pieces of their own souls within it too.
Talking to Busaad this morning made me realise what “pure love” is.
He loved my father for his person and his art, his intellect and for the generosity with his time and information. He reciprocated that love with his passionate embrace and belief in his own art, as well as paying it forward too.
Our conversation was really deep and enriching. It is through Ebrahim I got to know my father a bit better and am getting to understand various things about him as more and more blanks get filled.
I’m really happy that I have embarked on this project. It is very emotionally draining for me and I’m trying as much as I can to stay detached and professional. I awe that to my audience in order to deliver a better film to them. I want them to understand Nasser Al-Yousif, his environment, challenges, perspective and art, and I shall remain true to that central concept throughout.
I’d like to recognise and render my thanks to Mr Ebrahim Busaad for his generous contribution to this project. I believe his will be a cornerstone of this production.
Abbas Yousif and Jabbar Alghadban are now two of the leaders of the contemporary art scene in Bahrain. The long-time friends just mounted their fourteenth joint exhibition. Their contemporary works are displayed at the Contemporary Art Society at Alqadam roundabout at the start of the Budaiya highway. Some thirty acrylic paintings are displayed, some of which are painted on innovative columns which I believe adds another dimension to their art, as well the people’s enjoyment.
Jabbar is very well known for his prints and etchings, while Abbas’ forte is creative calligraphy which he imparts through silk-screen printing as well as other methods.
I thoroughly enjoyed visiting their exhibition last night, even if briefly, and am determined to visit again before the exhibition wraps up on the 18th of May 2017.
I’ve met both of these artists on their various visits to my father, under whom they studied and formed a very strong relationship. They were both affected by his art and thoughts as well as the determination to express themselves through their art.
I’m looking forward to interview them both for my documentary. Jabbar immediately expressed a strong interest to participate and assured me that Abbas would too. After all, Abbas has written prolifically about dad and his art since he passed away and is intimately familiar with his work.
I’ve finally arrived at the starting point of celebrating my father’s arts career and contributions to the art scene in general. I won’t dwell on why it’s taken me this long to start – a full eleven years since he passed away – other than this is simply the right time for me to do so.
The start today was an interview with the godfather of Bahraini art. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have spent time with Mr Abdulkarim Alorrayed at his home this afternoon. He is the first on my list of interviewees for the documentary I’m producing about my late father, Nasser Al-Yousif, who along with Mr Alorrayed, was one of the founders of contemporary art in Bahrain. Mr Alorrayed was also one of my father’s teachers and mentors and had become good friends with him over the years.
I believe that the interview was good. It was wide ranging and deep enough to produce several segments for the final documentary. I’m grateful to Mr Alorrayed for taking the time to reflect on a friendship that went over fifty years. His memory of dates, situations and experiences was astounding and enriching. And for that I shall always be very grateful to him.
I’ve identified several influential artists whom I’m going to interview. If you’d like to follow the production along, please subscribe to this blog to receive updates.
The latest version of the Filmic Pro application, version 6, is amazing. It is very intuitive to use and as importantly opens up a whole host of features and resolutions to iPhone filmmakers. The new version is capable of going up to 4k resolution on iPhone 6S series and above. Unfortunately older phones are limited to HD due to hardware.
However, as I discovered, if you had saved a higher resolution setting from a previous version of Filmic Pro, that setting was available on my older iPhone 6+ and was able to record in 3k without audio. Here’s my test:
The clarity is astounding! Crank up the resolution to 4k (it should’ve been 3k at 1728p but YouTube prefers 4k it seems) and put it on full screen and enjoy.