Bahrain: The Guest of Honour at La Biennale Paris 2019

Here’s a look into the much anticipated ArtBAB Pavilion at La Biennale Paris 2019.

In this interview, we speak to Kaneka Subberwal, Founder of Art Select and ArtBAB as well as Pacale Le Thorel and Amal Khalaf, Curators of ArtBAB’s Pavilion at La Biennale 2019.

Kaneka Subberwal
Founder of Art Select and Fairs & ArtBAB

Can you tell us more about the upcoming Bahrain Pavilion that will be hosted at La Biennale Paris?

We are very excited by this singular honour – the Kingdom is the ‘invited country’ at the 60-year old art festival, La Biennale Paris which takes place from September 13 to 17 this year.

The 364 square-metre ArtBAB Pavilion, designed by Nathalie Crinière, will be the largest at the show.  It will be a pavilion designed to present Bahrain’s culture and the engaging cultural vision of the Kingdom to an audience of influential collectors, peer artists and art-lovers.

The exhibition shall be curated by noted art critic, exhibition curator and editor, Pascale Le Thorel and artist and curator Amal Khalaf, both influential and knowledgeable in the global art world.

What is the historical significance of being a guest of honor in a biennial like La Biennale Paris?

La Biennale Paris is a prestigious and very cutting-edge art forum. By choosing Bahrain as the Guest of Honour country, the Biennale organizers have not just confirmed the quality and the excellency of contemporary Bahraini art – they have also given us a platform to hold a conversation with the world on modern Bahrain’s intellectual power, its cultural vibrancy and values. That is a conversation we are all looking forward to.

Tell us more about Art Select’s recent achievements. What are you proudest of?

We have plenty to be proud of as we trace the rise of awareness of Bahraini contemporary art movement through ArtBAB and its affiliated programmes. Ten Bahraini artists will be participating in Residency Unlimited (RU), an artists’ residency programme in New York, founded by well-known art authority Nathalie Angles. The eighteen-month programme which begins in September 2019, will be a valuable insight for our artists on trends and techniques of the contemporary art scene internationally.

In yet another first, the works of 5 Bahraini artists being selected for inclusion in CollectorIQ, a US –based art-collection management online system that lists over 320,000 artists and 6.5 million listed works of art from around the world.

We have just concluded a hugely successful first-time participation of 6 Bahraini artists and two performers at the Venice Biennale.

Our crafts programme ‘Artisans Across Borders’ is reinventing Bahrain’s timeless tradition of handicrafts into chic collectibles and bespoke collections that are sparking a new conversation around our crafts heritage.

How do you feel about exhibiting at this prestigious art fair?

To me, the invitation to participate in La Biennale Paris is a natural outcome of the exposure, the serious engagement with the art world that Bahraini contemporary artists have received through ArtBAB, the premier platform for Bahraini art to connect with the international art scene. It is a proud moment for all of us at Art Select.

Interview questions for Pascale Le Thorel and Amal Khalaf
Curators of the ArtBAB Pavilion at La Biennale Paris 2019

Pascale Le Thorel

How do you feel about being chosen to curate the Bahrain Pavilion?

Pascale: As a French art critic, I am very honored to work with Kaneka Subberwal and Amal Khalaf on this project. In my work as a curator and art critic, I have always sought to establish links with international artists because, for me, art has no boundaries.

Amal: Always so proud and excited to work with Bahraini artists and am honoured to be part of this project.

How did you navigate the expectation of “representing Bahrain” while maintaining criticality within the exhibition?

Amal: I try to give space to artists that might be exploring the gray area of artistic freedoms in the region. There is always a concern of what the society will accept; so in that way I think giving them the freedom to create and share their work as representatives of Bahrain in another city is so transformative for artists.

Pascale: I went to Bahrain to meet the artists and see their works. Thus we have been able, with Amal Khalaf who knows them very well, to elaborate the scenario of the exhibition which is articulated in large sections and represents all the tendencies of art.

Is there any kind of censorship or preselection in Bahrain related to artworks?

Amal: No, we had a selection of images from artists who applied. So there was no kind of preselection, there was a debate and discussion with Pascale and the team at Art Select of course once applications were received. One of the main challenges in this part of the world is censorship. I do believe however, that obstacles and censorship can sometimes compel the artistic community to be more creative.

Amal Khalaf

What do you hope visitors take away from this year’s iteration of La Biennale Paris?

Amal: A deeper understanding of artists and the context the artists have been working in.

Pascale: I hope that this exhibition at the Biennale de Paris will allow French and foreign visitors to this great international event to discover the artists of Bahrain with the same enthusiasm and curiosity that have been mine.