After Nyne x ArtBAB: Nine Minutes with Amal Khalaf

Amal Khalaf (Projects Curator, Serpentine Galleries, London) is one of the curatorial panel who selects artists to appear in BAB, the platform to showcase Bahraini artists which this year has attracted more than 100 applicants.

Also on this curatorial panel are Nathalie Anglès (Co-founder and Executive Director of Residency Unlimited, New York), Rebecca Anne Proctor (Editor-in-Chief, Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia) and Snejana Krasteva (Curator, Garage Museum, Moscow).

After Nyne spent nine minutes with Amal as part of our After Nyne x ArtBAB partnership.

Amal tell us about your relationship with Bahrain

I am from Bahrain, my father is from Manama and my mother is Singaporean. I grew up in Bahrain my whole life until I moved away for University and now work.  I have deep roots on the island and feel a strong bond to Manama where my grandmother’s house is – and of course to the sea.  I have witnessed much change growing up here as part of the Gulf’s industrial boom period.

I am from the generation of ’80s born babies who were raised in Bahrain after the formation of the GCC and the same year the water table of Bahrain was damaged from industrial development.  Witnessing first-hand the landscape changes, the fresh water springs drying up and environmental disaster related to the Gulf War and land reclamation has affected me deeply.  The impact of all the changes and socio-political shifts that have happened,  are the seeds of a lot of my work. In conversations with my late grandmother about Manama and the changes she witnessed in her lifetime, I am able to trace a legacy to a relationship to the sea,  of pearling and movement. Her sense of Bahrain is so different to mine but one I always carry as the backdrop of my own sense of being Bahraini.

Is this the first time you’ve been involved in ArtBAB?

I worked on the public programme last year, the ArtBAB London exhibition last November.

You’re involved in curating the work for the 2019 edition of ArtBAB; what does this process involve?

There are four curators selecting work and artists that submitted to an open call.  It was a pleasure to see lots of work by artists I have not seen before and excited that there are so many people producing in Bahrain and sharing their work.

Which artists are particularly exciting you from the 2019 selection?

I am excited about Aysha Al Moayyed’s work, I worked with her as part of the London show last year and it was great to get to know her practice better.   I was also introduced to the photography practice of Mashal Al Saei and I look forward to seeing how her work develops.

What role do you feel ArtBAB has within the Bahrain arts scene?

There is a very diverse art scene in Bahrain made up of many generations of artists, working in different ways and with different institutional structures.   I feel the diversity and strong grassroots movement of artists means that there are many different conversations happening in the art scene which is exciting.

I am particularly interested in the are more experimental practices emerging, from spatial interventions and critical architectural collectives like Ali Karimi and Hamed Bukhamseen as well as the Dilmuni Couple to artists like Hasan Hujairi who is creating new spaces for sound practice in Bahrain.

ArtBAB is a new initiative, that is well resourced and supporting many artists share their work locally and internationally.  This is a space that has been missing, and with the slow closure of independent galleries and spaces I think it is important to have the moment of the fair, as a regular annual event which can put the focus on local contemporary artists not just as an exhibition, but also a space of discussion and exchange.

What are you looking forward to about the 2019 edition?
The public programme looks great and am excited to see how the fair grows.

If you were asked about Bahrain’s role as an international arts centre what would you say?

For such a small country we definitely stand our ground!   For most of my life people didn’t even know Bahrain existed and I would always have to explain.  Now it is well known, and I think the Ministry of Culture and independent spaces like Al Riwaq have claimed a unique identity for Bahrain in the international art scene.    There are great artists working here, and showing all over the world. When Bahrain won the prize at the Venice Biennale for Architecture I was so excited and so many people were introduced to a critical, rigorous and sensitive representation of Bahrain.