Underground Kuwait’s scene heart beats up at Street Art

Follow Kuwait-based Monstariam painting the Q8 Bookstore Mural or the Skylounge. Brand Manager by day, Monstariam turns into a Street Artist at night. For the past 10 years he dedicated his time to enhance the highly prolific street art scene in the country. From organizing events, creating spaces up to teaching the local youth, he is driven by his ever-growing passion for this urban art form.

In his journey he can rely on Tim’s wise and discrete capture of these moments. Timothy Carr is a filmmaker who managed to gain the respect as well as the trust of the local Street Art scene, allowing him to enlighten the greatest Kuwaiti talents.

The duo showcase the amazing dynamism of this GCC country, and show that even if alcohol is prohibited in the small State, work is not, as these two work-alcoholics proved .

Hearts serving Arts…

Info:

Monstariam

Instagram: @monstariam
Facebook: monstariam
Twitter: @Monstariam
Website: http://monstariam.com
 

Timothy Carr: TJC Films

Instagram: @tjcfilms
Facebook: TJC Films
Twitter: @TJCFilms
Youtube Channel: TJC Fims 2011
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Jeddart

Not a single regional artist we have encountered since the beginning of our journey did not mention Saudi. According to many the Saudi art scenes, whether urban art or contemporary art, were among the greatest in the region.

Scenes, because the country is so huge that the topic could be divided amongst 3 big cities. Dammam in the Eastern Province on the Arabian Gulf, Riyadh the kingdom’s capital city situated in the Najd desert and finally Jeddah lying on the Red Sea’s shores.

Of course the variety of the geographical roots provided these 3 cities with some greatly different tempers. The conservative Riyadh has been shaped by the old Bedouin’s traditions and the hard quality of a desert life. Blending the inherent tribes’ history together with the sudden wealth the kingdom enjoyed for the past fifty years. Usually this shared idea of a conservative Riyadh prevents one from acknowledging that an art scene blossoms there. Yet, the reality is everything but that statement. On the contrary the art scene is alive and well as the Telfaz 11 crew, leaded by most famous Alaa Wardi and Hisham Fageeh, is popping out the sand. In a country where YouTube skyrockets, fresh videos aired by this eccentric collective of artists hit the million viewed.

Dammam on the other hand could not deny the influence provided by the Arabian Gulf, such as the influences carried by the close liberal Bahraini neighbor operating a clever exchange of culture between both kingdoms. The city also opens on this particular environment in which glorious civilizations share their radiances such as Iraq or Persia. Finally the Saudi Eastern region also hosts the major part of its Shia citizens who too contribute to this singular culture. Without forgetting Saudi Aramco the mastodon national oil company which main office is located in the close city of Dhahran. Aramco is also one of the kingdom’s greatest art sponsors which unceasingly organizes events and showcases newest talents.maz 2

But our journey led us to another Saudi city that too couldn’t blush of its own effulgence. Since the pre-Islamic times, Jeddah has been an unavoidable merchants’ harbor between the remote India and the Mediterranean. As every harbor, Jeddah hosts a great deal of mixed nationalities allowing the city to enjoy a unique culture of its own and jealously claiming its specificity. Most liberal city of the Kingdom as well as summer retreat place for the Saudi Government, Jeddah is one of a kind. Situated in Lawrence of Arabia’s beloved Hejaz few kilometers away from the Holy city of Mecca, Jeddah is an economic center as well as a cultural hub. Such as the Jeddah Art Week created in 2013, an initiative aiming “to encourage the burgeoning art scene in Jeddah and the Kingdom”. In 2014 already the world famous graffiti French Tunisian artist eL Seed came to perform one of his well-known “calligraffiti” on an Al-Balad’s wall, the historical district of Jeddah.

Afraid of being disappointed by a place we have so frequently heard the praises, as the “first night” constantly fails to reach your expectations; our primary experience in the kingdom was not for reassuring us. Stuck for 3 consecutive hours at the airport, standing in line all along, with barely 10 persons ahead of us, we were losing hope to ever see this inhuman sun locals are so boasting about. It also managed to teach us how to be patient with airport officers, and we’ve heard that it could be of use if we ever go to the US.

Once this little maturity teaching chapter elapsed, the rest of the journey never failed to get us back to some early ages when I recall myself being marveled by anything but the simplest things. Such as: “look the streets are not made out of gold here”, or, “woaw all the women do not wear the niqab around here”.

We have been told, surely by twisted minds, that staying in Al Rawdah district “was perfect because situated right in the middle of Jeddah, close to everything…”.

Yeah! Well, no it’s not.

Jeddah extends its gigantic urbanity on 1, 320 km2 ! Okay let’s put this traight, we come from Paris, where you can cross the city from East to West within an hour or less… In Jeddah that’s the time needed to change district. Oh and yes, these “perverts” signals slowly county down the time you’ll still have to remain inactive at the traffic lights must be the most sickening invention of all time.

However, soon enough all the grieves vanished before the warm welcoming from the locals, expat or natives. Thanks to the Cultural Conseiller of the French Consulate we quickly came in contact with a very original fellow. Aous, is both French and Syrian, born in Strasbourg, raised in Mecca, he spent most of his life between the Holy city and Jeddah. In his twenties Aous has been an unexpected and precious guide during all our stay. We have been blessed by encountering that exact same “kind” of patient and tremendously helping people all along our journey in Jeddah. Artists keen on kindly introducing us to key people of the scenes, such as the very talented Zahra Bundakji, who invited us to one of the talk she and her fellow co-workers organize: Casual Art talk hosted at Onqoud. Talk revolving around the dynamism, creativity and the singularity of Jeddah, in other words all which contribute giving the city an idiosyncratic soul.

We had Aous Chazal over the phone the previous night, talking perfect French of course; the contrary would have been surprising with this famous last name. We settled a meeting nearby the Dhad Store up North the city. While waiting for him under this sun (yeah now we get why they boast about it), a car furiously stopped at our feet. A thin white guy, coming out of the car, wearing the traditional white thawb and conveying a large smile. Shaking our hands, “ ‘suis Aous, ahlan wa salhan”. There it was, the perfect symbiosis of French and Arab culture. He later confessed that he does not usually wear the thawb on a daily basis, not even the sandals, another myth was falling apart.

He took us on a “graff” tour, starting few meters away with a large wall entirely painted by the Dhad Family crew. Twelve guys obsessed by urban culture, painters, video makers, communication specialists or graff fanatics, the only fanatics we’ve encountered in Saudi.

Or maybe not: their symbol, a large blue bear face looking dead serious, frowning and staring at you to whom you’d have given all items if he’d asked. A quick look at Melchior and a nod meaning “seems those guys are serious shit”.

dhad family wall

He then led us into the Dhad Store. HQ of the collective. There we met with all the members and would spend the following days invading their space while they would spoil us with kind treats: the Arab welcoming tradition.

(Note for future Arab encounters: even if you impose yourself, you remain a guest. It’s like Christmas every day!)

The Dhad Store has been entirely built from scratch, handmade from the lightnings, the table or even the massive shelf that runs along the wall and hosts the thousand cans they monthly import. Only shop that sales paint cans in Jeddah, the Dhad Store is also among the first on Saudi soil. Undertook few years ago, this amazing adventure is already self-sustainable and is on the verge of great achievements. We were so jealous.

dhad store 2dhad family

But suddenly an iron shutter closed the unique entrance of the shop. There it was… At last, much more alike the Saudi Arabia described on CNN. Two frail Frenchmen confined with a bunch of … “It’s prayer time!” Aous says. Yeah of course it is, we knew it…

A big name of Jeddah Urban Scene enters the shop. Big in name as well as massive.

Big Hass: DJ, radio host, magazine founder and editor in chief but more importantly a major support of this young movement. Big Hass could easily brag about the many collaborative works he carried out for the past years. Yet, he does not, instead he emphasizes on the Dhad Family and puts artists forward such as Maz. Big Hass was recommended to us by Bahraini DJ Outlaw, highlighting the fact we entered a hounds. Then follows an introduction of our project leading to a very interesting conversation about art and religion, which reminded us that Saudi was indeed the land of the Two Holy Mosques.

This pride in the Saudi culture comes along with the choice of the name these artists made: Dhad. The Arabic letter that exists in no other language. More than a naïve symbol, true claim and statement of the Arab culture.

Big Hass welcomed us on his weekly radio show, he wanted to understand what exactly drove us in this mad adventure without realizing that the people he introduced us were exactly these reasons. Big HassFriend with famous eL Seed and Saudi rap star Qusai, not a single Urban Art Scene member ignored who he is in Saudi and in the entire region. Behind his mic Hass fires at will, and gosh we love his targets: fake US pop stars, vague teenage celebrities that record labels vainly put into a studio, Bieber or Cyrius, today’s Scylla and Charybdis of creativity…

Back to basics, Wu-Tang and NAS. All we need.

Maz, the street artist we’ve met at Dhad Store that day, has been recommended by el Seed himself to collaborate to the Paris Tour 13 crazy project that took place in the 13th arrondissement facing the Seine River. A massive meeting of few of the most talented street artists on the Globe working side by side in an ephemeral exhibition, providing the neighborhood with a constant flow of onlookers and passionate resulting in never-ending line in front of an outdated building.

Native from the South, close to the Yemeni border, Maz settled with his family in Jeddah. In his thirties, he is considered as one of the most prominent street artist in the kingdom. He never stops working and endorses furthers “hats” or several lives. Graphic designer by day, he transforms as a painter at night. He even sometimes becomes taxi driver. Yet, he might be able to completely live out of his art, an achievement than only tiny few could hope for in the region.

maz

Funny, curious and smart, both he and Aous allowed us to tag along to the Mosque that Friday for the prayer. An intense and moving moment that we are not about to forget any time soon.

Maz did not go to Paris alone. He was joined by other pioneering artists among which, Maryam aka Mark M. Together with her friend Odod, Mark M paints sometimes with the

Dhad Family, sometimes alone.

Mark M Odod 3In their traditional hijab, they defy the heat and graff everywhere they can. Like on this spot in Al-Rawdah park nearby the basketball field. They also perform commissioned work when asked, a way to express their artistic talents without defying the law. Calm, quiet but determined they both explain what it means to be a female graffiti artist in the Kingdom. More complicated than for a male because of the social pressure. Sometimes it’s easier for Saudi women to reach an international fame than a national. Such as Haifaa al-Mansour, the first female film director from Saudi.

Not at any price however as Odod and Mark M wisely told us:Mark M Odod “keep your identity”.

 At the end of the radio show Big Hass advised us to check on one rap singer.

Stage name: Anas Arabi. This fellow is quite of a special one of his own. He sings in Fusha, the traditional Arabic. The one of the Holy Quran. Only Saudis and Yemenis still master the complexity of this marvelous language. Yes, but Anas is a Syrian native… Well, he would explain you that even if not all Arabs can still speak Fusha fluently, they all understand it. Which makes his music global. He also raps in English, and Syrian dialect. Part of the Run Junxion collective, their albums always get a large media coverage in Saudi. Anas collaborated with Qusai for one of his song (the same one used for this video, don’t worry we asked for permissions).

We could not say that we understand all of Anas’ lyrics, even not a tiny part though, but he told us it was related with contemporary topics, the kind of the Arab World doesn’t lack of. Yet very societal driven, such as a song he did with a fellow Lebanese guy. The superficiality of the views displayed about the region is constantly denounced by regional artists.

The least that we can say is that Saudi blew our minds, and it’s a “first night” we would gladly undertake one more time, ‘cause it sure reached our expectations, even outmatched them.

Info:

Dhad Store:

Fb: https://www.facebook.com/dhadstore

Twitter: @DhadStore

Big Hass:

Fb: https://www.facebook.com/BIGHASS121

Twitter: @BIG_HASS

Web: http://revoltradio.blogspot.com/

Maz:

Fb: https://www.facebook.com/mazen.shamrani

Instagram: @mazen_alshamrani

Mark M:

Fb: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mark-M/916096131737190

Instagram: @__markm1

Odod:

Instagram: @ododgallery

Zahra Bundakji:

Fb: https://www.facebook.com/zahrasart

Instagram: @zazazazahra

Onqoud:

Fb: https://www.facebook.com/Onqoud

Run Junxion:

Fb: https://www.facebook.com/RunJunxion

Twitter: @RunJunxion

Anas Arabi:

Twitter @ AnasArabi

Telfaz 11:

Fb: https://www.facebook.com/Telfaz11

Twitter: @ Telfaz11

Alaa Wardi:

Twitter: @ AlaaWardi

Hisham Fageeh:

Twitter: @ HishamFageeh

Haifaa al-Mansour:

Twitter: @ HaifaaMansour

Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus : … nah, just kidding.

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Off Routine

Off routine

 

One of a kind artist, LeonD finds his inspiration in History, Literature as well as Japanese Manga. Dark and colorful, sometimes scary yet filled with hidden messages, LeonD’s sketches and drawings are moving.

Childhood memories mixed with adult interpretation allowed us to identify LeonD’s work with a culture we also share. Always on the move, LeonD allows his own work to evolve with time and knowledge, as much technical as emotional. His collection is consistent and could even be considered a retrospective in which we can admire always progressing skills.

LeonD shared his experience as well as a great deal of his intimacy welcoming us in his home. It could seem paradoxical but in most cases, the scariest moment for an artist is when he shows his artworks. Letting the public have a direct interaction, anxiously waiting the judgment. This usually explains why an artist doesn’t really wishes to promote his old works, not confident enough about the results.

LeonD kindly authorized us to look back in his previous catalogs. We wanted to understand his “world” and the art evolution. He did play along with us and opened up joyfully.

That precise evolution is not only technical, going from sketches to digital support, but also evolved side by side with LeonD’s topics as he was gaining a great deal of culture. Faith and beliefs for example, are two matters inflowing the pieces.

Eyes laughing he was waiting for our reactions, perhaps he even intended to shock us. Whatever the goal was, it succeeded and we both kept a very good memory of his talent.

We all sat in the living room where he managed to spoil us with treats and fruits in such a way that I began to wonder if we could ever start the small interview we planned for him.

Comfortably sited in our couches, dates and juices lying on the table, we discussed about the street art scene, the differences between Bahrain and other places, the role of a graffiti artist in society… What caught our attention was that he was keen on repeating that he didn’t want to impose anything to anyone. Meaning, that he is not obsessed with pleasing everybody.

Next day we arranged a meeting at his favored spot in Bahrain. At the end of the bridge linking Manama to Muharraq, here stands a small fishermen’s harbor. Resting under the bridge, boats are barely ready to sail the sleepy waters.

LeonD was waiting for us in front of an amazing overview facing Manama bay. Stunts on thin wooden handmade bridges, in single file, we soon disappeared behind a small “village” composed of sheds. The fishermen usually rest there, preserved from the merciless sun before heading back on the sea.

“Here it is!” he said. The view was breathtaking. Melchior, shot invariably, turning on himself, catching every moves at the surface of the sea. Couldn’t prevent myself from being relieved of not having snorkeling equipment. I am pretty confident, Mel would have jumped in order to photograph under the sea as frenetically.

It was a good day, and the spot also became one of our preferred on the Island.

Few weeks after, we planned an encounter with DJ Outlaw and Flipperachay. They’ve agreed to welcome us in Outlaw’s old studio. Warm welcome, we climbed the stairs and discovered a completely self-made studio. Flipp was there, warming up for a show he would perform later on the week.

“We so fly” Flipp’s tee-shirt is named after one of his main song. We sat and discussed a bit about their collaboration. DJ Outlaw is now a renowned rap music producer and managed to gather several artists of the region in order to record “Arab World Unite”, celebrating a much needed unity between Nations sharing a common language and culture.

The song became a tube. As for Flipp he knew he wanted to sing since his childhood. Mainly in English, Flipp raps and composes since he is eighteen. “I find my inspiration while driving through Bahrain”, he said smiling.

They offered us with a special treat and agreed to show us how they work. In the studio Flipp improvised while DJ Outlaw, sitting on the other side of the window, was mixing, both in total harmony. The beat filled the room and I caught Mel and myself moving our fingers and heads within the rhythm.

Urban art is definitely a common language, but it’s the way you perform it that gives the uniqueness, the feeling you are off routine.

 

LeonD:

Blog: http://leon-d-art.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thyleond

 

DJ Outlaw:

Website: http://www.djoutlaw.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/djoutlawfanpage

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DJOUTLAW

 

Flipperachay

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/flipperachimusic

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Flipperachay

 

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Across the Sea

Across the Sea

Renowned for its splendor and luxury, arrogantly displaying its wealth and success in a World in crisis. Many were those waiting for Dubai to crash, many are those distilling the idea that Dubai has been built on a fragile fake ground, a city rising on moving sands.

The sky-reaching Emirate paid the harsh price of the Global Economic collapse. Corporate was until now King in its Kingdom. But for the last few months, the winds have been turning in the entire UAE, and Dubai appears to be back on the frontline. The long-asleep art realm is waking too, and the coronation happened a few days ago in Paris, where Dubai won the Expo 2020.

The impact of the win is huge, resonating throughout the region. At least that’s how we perceived it. Landing in Abu Dhabi we couldn’t avoid noticing the forest of advertising banners asking us to “Be part of it”.

But as usual it was a much smaller and discrete art lordship that we were hoping to find there:  Urban culture.

Warmly welcomed by Shahnaz tearing her hair out, waiting for us to find our way in this massive city of mushrooming buildings. We would later apologize by setting supper, in a genuinely French way.

Melchior made the dog sing alongside him on the piano, in this little part of French Provence house: we were home.

DIFC is a famous district in Downtown Dubai. Built around a huge Arch from where you can admire a London Big Ben replica, the name stands for Dubai International Financial Centre. Within this ‘suits and pinstripes’ den lies a tiny block where big artistic names have settled. Galleries showcasing their flocks.

Time to head toward Tashkeel. We’d been recommended to take a look at the place, and it was worth it. Not easy to find, Tashkeel is unique in Dubai. “An independent resource for artists and designers living and working in the United Arab Emirates” is how it defines itself. The place provides a huge amount of equipment for all kinds of arts. A dark room, printing presses, latest computers, fully stocked library and so on. The center is every artist’s dream come true.

Jill, a British native Manager, took us from one room to the next, as Melchior’s stared wide-eyed. Outside in the garden, we were astonished to discover a skatepark, with a half-pipe and even a bowl.

“Kids come here every night after school”, Jill said. Next to the skateboard area, we ran into some graffs. This place was definitely what we were looking for.

Our tour was a rhythmic one – accompanied by the loud noise of a typing hammer. Jill introduced us to Spanish native Ruben Sanchez. A famous graffer at that precise moment, preparing for his exhibition, that was scheduled to take place the following week. Ruben was kind enough to tell us a little bit about his journey, and how he got here, talking while building his art piece made of half a car he found in Sharjah. Tashkeel offers a residency program for talented artists and before Ruben, the very well known “calligraffer” el Seed, also took part in it.

Artists, art lovers, kids and their elders, all cohabit in order to exchange and benefit from each other’s talent.

Back to DIFC where we had a meeting with an artist we met in Bahrain. The Emirati photographer Ammar Al Attar took us for lunch in the district that he knows very well. Ammar also works with Tashkeel and is represented by Cuadro, one of the DIFC gallery top players. After “Prayer Room” that we had seen in Bahrain, he told us a little bit about his next project.

Always a pleasure to hear about Ammar’s work which remains a long organized process. He manages to share his passion for his art and allows one to reach his own intimacy. And we take pride in counting him as a friend.

If DIFC is a major player in Dubai’s artistic world, Alserkal Avenue would be considered as the “outsider” district, yet unavoidable.

Welcomed by a graff on a wall we were on the right track. Situated in an industrial area in al Qoz, nearly 20 galleries are represented. “A hub for arts & creativity”, that’s the motto. Belgian, Syrian, French, Emirati… Alserkal welcomes gallerists from all over the World. We visited a few of them including Ayyam Gallery from Damascus, Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde from Belgium, la Galerie Nationale from France, and not  forgetting, the nice welcome from Gulf Photo Plus.

Because we are French (and proud to be), we attended a superb exhibition thrown by the Alliance Française in Dubai. Together with Kobo, an online art gallery, the Alliance was promoting 9 artists under a powerful theme “Visions of Women”.

The woman’s identity is strong in the Gulf region, and it’s not the first time that the Alliance Française in Dubai has focused on this topic.  A few years ago, it gathered artists for an exhibition called “Regards de Femmes”. One of the artists was a British native woman called Steffi Bow. When she came to Dubai 6 years ago, she didn’t know how to graff. Nowadays she and her husband, Sya, are known throughout the Dubai street art scene, as the Bow couple.

They were looking for a house with a big wall on which they could perform their artpieces. The wall is “moving”. “Take a picture if you want, because next week it will be different” she told me laughing.

We first met her at the Adidas party where she was focused on her piece. Actually we did bother her, as she was intensely watching over our shoulders inspecting what her “students” for the evening where doing: she was giving a workshop. Just enough time to exchange contacts and arrange a meeting later on.

Adidas was throwing a party: breakdance, graff, stencil, DJs. and here, even a guy cycling through the mob… the whole night was dedicated to the urban scene.

In the parking lot, which was the setting for the party, artists were mixing with the public. The night’s climax happened when Adam Shero Baluch started to sing for a highly motivated crowd.

Dubai has been surprising, filled with passionate encounters and even managed to break some of the stereotypes.

Sure we’ll have to get across the sea again…

Info:

Steffi & Sya Bow are also part of a collective: Deep Crates Cartel

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I AM

I AM

« Hip Hop is like sport. You have to be hard otherwise they gonna eat you”, he said. And he knows what he is talking about; Hamad Al Fardan AKA The Mystro, is a former racing driver. He dropped out at the end of the 2009 season to fully dedicate himself to his true passion, Hip Hop. With his third album in the works, he is now racing for fame. As with all the other artists we have met, he is completely self-taught and still trying to cut his way into Bahrain’s rap scene.

“Incredible” is the term that Melchior and I silently shouted when we discovered The Mystro’s music studio, or was it silent?

The 26-year-old man built it all by himself making a professional studio out of a flat room. Heavy sound equipment, mixing tables, monitors here and there, mics everywhere. This place could be the envy of most modern US studios.

With “I am back”, his second album, he faced some criticism for speaking out about the emptiness of the Bahraini rap scene. Now he is making a comeback with a new type of sound, mixing traditional Arabic music into the flow. In his little studio he had to welcome an entire orchestra of traditional musicians. “We managed just well!” he said with a wink.

A live! It makes one feel to attend a private show. The Mystro allowed us to enter his intimate space with that. And that was just what Melchior needed to get his photographs. Let’s Rock’n roll, or rap in that case!

Shooting faster than a blink as usual, Melchior was juggling with the digital and his large format camera. Captivated by The Mystro’s mic, he shot it just enough times to make a 3D replica.

“I’ll show you my favorite place around here. It’s an abandoned house we used to play in as kids. Some say it’s haunted by Djinns” he said.
And sure enough, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, this house strangely stands. And no, I’m not wearing a cape in order to deceive the Djinns and distance them, it’s Melchior’s material I’m holding.

We took leave promising ourselves to buy The Mystro an ashtray he desperately needs.

Eman was to shoot Bahrain University’s corridors. It’s part of her project. Resolutely moving the large format, choosing the angles carefully, and the shoot was off. She wanted it to be perfect. Not a woman to waste time but the Devil lies in the details nevertheless.

The less light, the more time needed for exposure. The more time of exposure, the more the risks of someone coming by and ruining the photograph. So you’d better hurry before night falls because photographers prefer using the sun’s natural light. What stressful work.

Eman manages it just perfectly. When we were in Dubai we opened a famous regional art magazine only to discover Eman looking out from the pages. Being featured in it is great recognition. We hang out with a star!

It was time to meet with another talented artist. Leon D is a graffer. We heard about him on many occasions and were keen to get him. Unfortunately for us he was abroad for weeks. Thanks to Ali we got to finally meet and explain what is it that we do here.

Just enough time to have a sip of those strange teas they sell in the shops (50 % coffee + 50 % tea in the same cup), to watch some videos and we were off in Leon D’s car. A magical tour of Bahrain’s streets.

-You are mine!
-What?
-You are mine, that’s the piece’s title over there

No he wasn’t hijacking us. Leon D was introducing us to some graffs. Not only his. Actually the You are mine one, is not his. As we sank into the heavy Gulf’s night, we stopped in front of Ali’s “lantern”, a stencil he did in a bus stop shelter.

We’ve discovered one common link between all the artists we’ve met here – their passion is not their main job. There are no scholarships, no direct aid or funding, no schools or academies for training. These are self-made, self-trained individuals with little support. If they want to keep on doing what they love, they only have themselves to rely on. Of course they tend to help each other. Like The Mystro doing collaborations with other musicians, or Leon D showing works made by others.
In essence, the condition of young artists here is a statement in itself.

Standing proudly and saying out loud “I am”. To which we want to add “a Flag bearer” because they are at the forefront of this forgotten idea – the artist is a change maker.

Infos:

Music by The Mystro: You & me (feat. Ayzee), I’m Back

The Mystro:
Website: http://www.themystromusic.com
FaceBook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheMystro247
On Bahrain Music Conference website: http://www.bmc-bh.com/?wp_artists=hamad-mystro-fardan

Eman Ali:
Blog: http://www.site-blocked.net
Website (under construction): http://www.emanali.com

Leon D:
Blog: http://leon-d-art.blogspot.com
Instagram page: @thyleond

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Movements

Movements

Night falls early these days. Shyly getting through Muharraq’s dark streets to Jamsheer house. It was the opening of Abbas Almosawi and Ghasan Muhsen‘s exhibitions. The fully lit courtyard was fraught with activity. Public figures like the French and German ambassadors mingled with anonymous art lovers; all admiring these two famous artists’ works.

Alain Michel, a French chef was brought in specially to provide catering for the event. Fine French dishes and Arabic Fine art, what else?

It was our second time meeting Abbas. An eccentric and respected painter who accepted to cast his delicate eyes onto Jamsheer house and reveal through that, all his talent. Shahnaz was in love with his paintings. There is light in his paints, she said. There is joy and suave colors. Jamsheer house was already a special place for her, thanks to Abbas it became paradise. The paintings talked to her.

Unreason is exhilarating! A young Saudi teacher we met that night would have concurred.  She drove us into her much fascinating vicissitudes. A talk we are not about to forget. Struggle and humor are often not great bed partners.

Another day and another ride. This time it was with a photographer. Camille Zakharia, Lebanese native, Canadian national is a serial prize winner. Middle-East, Europe and the US are his playground. Just let Camille express himself and you’ll travel the World and back through his Medium Format camera’s lens: Camille’s Twenty thousand leagues around the Globe.

He is not only one of his generation’s most talented photographers; he also gives Melchior some precious advices.

That day he took Melchior for a ride. That kind of passionate ride in Manama’s streets, analyzing and just taking time to appreciate the surroundings.  On display was the artist’s ability to give you a second chance to look at the most basic constructions from an entirely different perspective. Things you see every day but don’t look at.

We had an amazing talk with Camille, about the compulsions that drive an artist to dedicate his entire life to a single project. Camille, don’t you fear that the artist could lose himself in the process? Being so obsessed, wouldn’t he simply go mad? In other words Camille, when does an artist know to stop a project?

I’ve been obsessed with this question since I got here. Art is new to me.

Ahhh… The artist just knows, you see. He knows when to end it, when he is “replete”. There is a danger, of course, but it’s on a personal dimension. Have you heard of the Becher couple? German nationals, Bernd and Hilla Becher never seemed to be satisfied with industrial buildings and structures until the very end. Bernhard died in 2007.

They spent their entire lives for their project and never lost themselves. The result is simply stunning.

Camille knows very well what he is talking about. Some of his journeys have taken up to 8 years of his life. He even knows that he won’t be able to realize some of the projects he has in mind. Always on the move, this Goliath keeps on looking forward to the next step.

It was time for us to move too. We had an appointment with HuviL again. Step by step this artist is becoming a friend. He even accepted to welcome us in his house. Not that easy to find, but for once Melchior outdid himself and we miraculously arrived at our destination.

Cap screwed on the head, he was waiting outside on the street, with a large smile and a warm welcome.

Sorry for the mess guys, didn’t have time to clean up but we just moved in.

It was not that messy at all apart from his office. And that’s where we found the treasure. HuviL’s own Aladin’s cave. Sprays everywhere – packed, unpacked, littering the floor. We even found a paint can with “Fuck” written on it. Not sure HuviL’s wife was too pleased.

It was the portrait and cityscape photographs’ time. So Melchior released his Large Format once more as I sipped a homemade mango juice, kindly offered by HuviL’s wife. Yeah, I get to enjoy the perks of the job…

He then took us to a spot he loves. Feet in the water, all three of us contemplating the majestic view the bay pompously displayed. As night fell, Melchior had to hurry. Exposure time: 8 minutes! What if a plane or a car comes by? Well the photograph would be ruined…

It did happen at 9’, timer’s time. Timing is also one of many of Melchior’s talents…

The blue arch opens on this nice luminous house. Not any kind though. Ramah Husseini not only lives here, but she also welcomes all kinds of artists willing to exhibit in her place. Surrounded by pieces, she evolves in this space with an unstudied behavior yet disconcerting. Far from being jaded, her longtime passion allows here a subtle judgment and a constant energy.

Always in movement, Ramah’s house displays the works of those who cannot be featured elsewhere. The unknown and anonymous, intimidated by the gallery system, come to her. A lovely haven of candour complemented by skills and flairs.

Ramah is herself a painter. Originally from Saudi and Palestine, she offers her own private Bahraini sanctuary for all the artists to sell their pieces from 2 BD up to 700 BD.

Is she on the verge of creating a movement here?

Time as usual will tell…

Infos:

Ramah Husseini

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Strength of Belief

Strength of Belief

It didn’t take long for Nina to spit it out. Her report’s second paragraph starts with it. She can hide it as a quotation, but it remains, to our mind at least, an important fact we witnessed that night: “Women run this country”.

On Monday night, the Capital Club was hosting the 2nd Annual Leading Women in Business Forum. In a crowded room high above Manama’s streetlights, five women were explaining their personal experiences that led them to become successful entrepreneurs in Bahrain. They very much reflected the intently focused audience, made up of young women and even teenagers, ’Abaya’-clad or otherwise. If the male gender wasn’t represented on stage, he was definitely part of the debate.

Even if these women expressed different journeys, often filled with difficulties but sometimes smoothly paved, they all shared one key belief: being a woman entrepreneur in Bahrain is possible!

Implement this tiny yet simple notion and it will grow in minds. Nourishing itself with passions and beliefs. This was the forum’s aim. To provide a positive and revelatory platform that would openly speak to women about how these kinds of adventures don’t just happen to others. And it worked brilliantly, as the crowd reacted intensely. Here a man trying to push the boundaries, there a young woman starving for guidance. The night was a success.

Inspiration didn’t only come from the stage, it was all around. We, for example, were on duty that night, tasked with covering the event live on camera. An easy task on paper, slightly trickier in reality. Nina had flown in from Dubai especially for the event and was en route to Beirut where she is Editor-in-chief of Lebanon-based Wamda, a portal which defines itself as “a platform designed to empower entrepreneurs in the MENA region”.

We had to assist her in filming and sort of documenting the night. She conducted interviews with each and every one of the speakers.

Nina, why do you inform them in advance about the interview questions? I’m not here to trick them; I want them to think about the answers before. These are short interviews.

Indeed, less than 10 minutes. Only problem: we didn’t know how to frame correctly. In the end, we hoped that she could at least retrieve some usable content. As she flew back home with the cassettes, she was also carrying our embarrassment…  As for us, apart from the earrings setting, we drove back home carrying all the precious advice she had imparted.

That night we met that special kind of woman. You know; the iron fist in a velvet glove’s one.

It was finally time to use all those tips. HuviL didn’t know it, but he was about to become our first victim. We decided to meet at a fast-food parking area. He was late, just enough time to allow us to have a take away (my first one ever by the way!).

The red car furiously screeched to a halt by our feet, the window lowered. Sorry guys, I’m late. What about you follow me?!

Direction: the British Council. An absolute first for both of us! Never stepped into one before. Well, we are Frogs after all, we just don’t go to the roast beefs’… Hard to admit, but the welcome was benevolent. And let us be clear: it was HuviL who asked permission for us to shoot there! We are not savages… (To whom it’s addressed).

HuviL has a project here. A frieze commissioned by the British Council. He’d already graffed a woman’s face, he was finishing a woman’s hand beautified with henna. The velvet glove?

20 minutes interview. Why? First, because we follow advice, And second, because Melchior was stamping his feet. You see, he hasn’t used his Large Format camera for more than a month now. Oh, that I can understand. Take away my keyboard and I’ll shoot you, and not with a camera this time!

It was time for Melchior to break free and finally perform his photography. Again, HuviL was to become our victim. And the guy was patient. He accepted to play by the rules, which are: forget the Large Format, forget it and forget it. Not an easy task, as the camera is strange. It seems to emerge right out of the ashes of History. What kind of freak would still use it in the digital era?

Mask on, spray out and HuviL was off. In a church-like kind of silence, HuviL was graffing and Melchior shooting.

Randomly walking, I ran into some of Alan’s pieces. Ah, Brits…

With a dullard smile hooked to his lips, Melchior began packing away all his equipment. He had the photograph. He was relieved.

If I’ve been inspired by some I could have expected, like HuviL or the women back that night, others like Nina and Melchior himself, unexpectedly “floored” me. All replete by strength, moving, thanks to their passions.

Time for us to leave. On the way back, all the kids were staring at HuviL.

We were out on the British Council’s parking lot, shaking hands and sharing greetings.

About to enter the car. ..

Hey guys! You asked me last time if I’ve ever drawn my wife…

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Walk with me

Walk with me

 

It was time to meet Ali Swar again, but this time for an in-depth interview. Now that we had some clues as to who he is, we wanted him to express it.  You see, it can be easy to talk about what we believe, how we see things, what interpretation to give to issues. But to be conscious of who we are deep down, what role we give ourselves in life if any, these are other matters. Not bartending psychoanalysis here, just enlightening you on the interviewee’s role.

No matter what experiences you’ve been through, nothing beats speaking in front of a running camera isn’t an easy task. Ali did a great job – forgetting that the camera was there, he answered the questions we had for him. The guy is inspired and inspiring.

Simplest questions can often be the trickiest: What’s street art? Is street art an art from the West? If it’s so, why do you use it? Is this part of the World so obsessed by Western culture that it cannot create its own medium of expression?…

One thing was for sure, Ali wanted to address his fellow Bahraini nationals. Being a street artist in this part of the World is a statement by itself. It’s not a naïve process. It simply can’t be!

Undoubtedly, artists like Banksy are role models for any street artist around the Globe. Back here, even more so. The guy is a legend. But let’s take another perspective here, according to our own interpretation. What exactly does Banksy risk, in drawing an innocent girl lifted into the air by a balloon on the Israeli/Palestinian wall? Prison? For a while sure… But he is European, his Passport is by essence a way out… It is his work that defines him. As for the artists here, it’s their paths themselves that do.

The work here would be a quest for beauty. An esthetic process more than a controversial one. How do you study art here by the way? You don’t. You are self-taught, no surprise that you work hard on your technique then.

Ali wants to gather people through art. It’s a success in progress.

Other part of town, another story, same aim.

We had to meet with Alan. UK-native Alan Goulbourne is an amazing sculptor. Completely unable to “market” what he does, we really had to dig, ask, and push to even cuddle his world. But one thing is certain – this guy’s star is on the rise. Three years now that he has been doing that. That what? That everything! He tries it all. Wood, stone, steel… doesn’t know how to do this or that? He learns by himself, makes some mistakes, starts again. In three years, he made more than 50 pieces. And not some little figurines, no! Huge pieces, using sometimes up to 1km of wood. We, of course, don’t count the fact that he builds his own equipment such as tables, chairs or shelves in order to display his materials. That’s what he was doing when we arrived. Making a table! How long does it take you to do it Alan? What, the table? 5 to 10 minutes… The question was stupid, from his point of view at least. Alan was in Bahrain thanks to Al Riwaq. He had sponsorship until December so he could build a kind of school for Bahrainis who want to embrace the artistic path. He will teach them how to use the equipment and he’ll be on his way back to Wales. Gulf is too hot for him anyway. He needs cold. Ah, Brits…

He’s converted us. As we moved away, we knew that we’d just met with a one of a kind artist. And sure in the belief that the next time we’ll cross his road, it will be on an art magazine front-page.

We had an appointment with another gifted artist. If the previous meeting with Alan was off topic for our work, this one was clearly in.

Scene name: HuviL. Art: Graff. Profession: air traffic controller.

Not an interview meeting but an expedition. The interview will have to wait. We were about to discover Manama through Huvil’s art. Like we did with Ali (before his actual interview), we wanted to know a little bit more about HuviL.

His repute precedes him, and that’s what we were about to understand. He took us in his car. The “crime” equipment were there lying on the car’s back seats. A mask, allowing you to breath correctly while graffing and of course the legendary sprays.

Melchior wanted to shoot every moment with his camera. Clicking furiously here and there. Unstoppable machine. He wanted all the details. We wanted all the details. From official to less official work pieces in Manama streets, HuviL thrilled us as he carried us into the Oriental night. From dusty to sanitized areas, we saw it all. Again, the technique is without a doubt here. Women are Huvil’s main subject, and he knows how to enhance them. Their eyes are hypnotizing thanks to his talent.

Sometimes HuviL collaborates with other street artists, like this mural they did in midtown. One of his first works. He showed us the video that one of his buddies did about this particular day. They stayed for few days. After his work HuviL would come back and pursue his piece. Taking into consideration that he works for complete 10 hour shifts in the airport tower, the guy better be passionate, and his wife patient.

HuviL is a recognized artist here; for sure he’ll be abroad soon. But what we appreciated with him apart from his sharp sense of humor, was the fact that he seemed very touched by the compliments we made about his work. The artist “thanks” the shy one. Very far from the arrogant one, consequence of an anticipated compliment.

Three real artists, three different roads, one same goal: carry the public on into their journey.

Let’s sum up their approach: Walk with me.

To be continued…

 

 

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Senses

Senses

This car of ours is supposed to be our best ally, as we daily traverse the city from end to end.  Don’t even consider walking here. You’ll have more chance of survival in an earthquake than you would during a romantic walk through Manama. So a car you would think, would be the safest way to move around here. Not so! Melchior’s on-road performance manages to turn this nice little SUV into a rolling hearse/ashtray.

On the way to the office, located in Manama’s old souq, we almost transformed the car and ourselves, into Manama’s latest “street art” performance. Understand: we nearly got ourselves plastered into a wall…

What a relief then to reach the office safely. Actually, not. You see, we say that a first impression is the right one. Mine was clear: our office is deeply depressing. Located in a tiny dying mall where the only sign of life comes from the kitschiest philipino restaurant ever. Decorated with the same Christmas ‘embellishments’ of the past decade. In which a plastic Santa Claus sits gloriously amid a forest of screens airing 24/7 the most vulgar philipino TV shows imaginable.

Just enough time for us to grab two coffees and take possession of our AC-free office (not cigarette free I hasten to add). Don’t get us wrong, we love this atmosphere.

Eman called us; she wanted to show Melchior an amazing workshop. Eman is an Omani native photographer. A hell of a woman to run into in this part of the world. Highly sophisticated yet adventuress, she brought Melchior to a Spotlight Bahrain workshop. This “group of youths”, as they define themselves, aims to help, support and give unique experiences to visually impaired persons. This evening was dedicated to an awards ceremony, not of any kind though. A jury was to review photographs taken by blind persons. How exactly could one of the most visual art forms be performed by somebody unable to see? This is precisely the point on which a traditional photographer could use the tremendous advice Spotlight’s crew was providing in this workshop, Melchior told me. Because they reminded us that photography is not only a visual process but on the contrary, in order to take THE photograph you should be able to listen to all your senses. For sure sight can help you take a picture, but hearing, touch, smell and even taste make you take a photograph. Through hearing you can appreciate the distance, through smell you can sense your environment, through touch you can feel shapes, through taste you understand your model and thanks to all of them combined, you just see…

What a lesson! And Melchior confirmed that he was astonished by the results. The visually impaired persons back there were true photographers.

We all know the region’s obsession with malls. The thing is, we’ve heard about those mega shopping metropolises for some time now, but we’ve never been in one. So when we were told that our office was located near one of them, you can imagine our excitement. And then our disappointment in discovering the dying place. It was time to fix this and finally see a proper MALL. That was Friday’s task.

And far from being disappointing…

It’s massive. Getting there is a nightmare but once you’re in, it’s just consummation wonderland. Flashing lights vomit, 5 floors down to hell, over-the-top hallways arrogantly displaying worldwide brands… should we rejoice or be disgusted? I’m not sure yet.

Why is it that as soon as I click a picture with my shitty phone camera I’m directly told by mall security that it’s forbidden but when Melchior does it with his outsized professional camera he gets no warning? Lucky b*****d… Even Eudeline, Melchior’s sister, told me she was waiting for me to get caught. But how could I’ve known it’s forbidden?

It was time to get out of this strange place, reminding us of the West “same same but different”. We needed to replenish our souls and fill our bodies with normality. That’s why we went to Boho Baha’s Farm Fest.

Tagline: “Boho Baha is a platform for us to create experiences that highlight the immense creativity in Bahrain”. Artists in every corner. Musicians on stage and down here, out there, in the crowd, next to you…

Normality? It was everything but. Bahrain is a paradox – full of surprises. In the afternoon, you live the “American nightmare”, in the evening, a Middle East style “Woodstock”. Children running on the half sand, half grass ground. People enjoying some great bands, performing sometimes soul, sometimes alternative rock in complete communion. Yousif is responsible for bringing us down here, and we are still very grateful for the efforts he makes in introducing us to Bahraini artists. Both him and Eman are of great help to us.  Yousif told us that previously in approx. 2003, Bahrain was famous for its underground party scene.

On the way out, our sight was snapped up by a “badass bikers” group. You could think that Bahrain doesn’t make sense but in fact, this country is on the road again, very much alive and unleashing senses.

To be continued…

Infos:

Eman Ali:

Blog: http://www.site-blocked.net

Website: http://www.emanali.com

Boho Baha:

Fb page: https://www.facebook.com/Bohobaharain

Spotlight Bahrain :

Fb page : https://www.facebook.com/spotlightbahrain?fref=ts

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Encounters

 

Encounters

(29 & 30.09.2013)

Ali gave us a call, I’m stuck in traffic, I’ll be fifteen minutes late, sorry guys. Didn’t I tell you everybody is always late in this part of the World? And you can also be stuck in your car for hours sweltering in a never-ending heat, sweating as a… just like the guy next to you! As your sweat pours, your rage builds, you swear like a crazy monkey, and your eyes become the reds of blood injections. You feel downhearted, abandoned, while staring at the never-ending line. You have a completely empty look that even the most talented cows would envy. You wait…and wait…and wait.

Of course we were already familiar with that feeling when we received Ali’s call. We too were stuck. We too were late. But we sure didn’t give that information to him… Melchior preferring to light another cigarette, hoping that it would cool him off (It didn’t work).

Al Riwaq gallery was launching the opening of a one-month exhibition that night. It was the perfect place to have a meeting with one of Ulafa’a street artists, aka Ali. We wanted to introduce him to our project and get a feeling for who he is. Like a lot of Ulafa’a members and many artists here, Ali is self- taught. He sat with us for an hour or so, talking about his journey but also sharing his hopes and visions for Bahraini’s art scene. It was a genial conversation. Ali is an interesting person to listen to.

He even made us try قهوة بالهيل , Arabic coffee made with cardamom, generously provided by Al Riwaq gallery. For the last sixteen years, this space has provided sanctuary for many artists, featuring countless exhibitions to promote art in Bahrain. That evening they were introducing Ammar’s photographs. Ammar Al Attar is a famous Emirati photographer from Dubai. In his “Prayer Rooms” series, Ammar aims to show the public all the unusual prayer rooms across the UAE. Surprising to look at those empty places usually filled with life.

Melchior and Ammar talked about photo stuff. The kind of stuff I’m not sure I entirely get. So I left them to it. It was time for a beer anyway!

Monday morning! If someone asks you how you feel on that particular day here, don’t answer “like a Monday”. It won’t make any sense as the working weeks start on Sundays.  The person might actually have asked you sincerely.

We had to meet Ammar so Melchior could show him La Maison Jamsheer. It’s not a language mistake; La Maison Jamsheer is the French-Bahraini cultural center. A lovely blue shuttered house located in the Muharraq district and in the heart of the old souq. This discreet little gem also welcomes art exhibitions. Ammar loved the house. Not surpising though; Ammar is a man of great taste, he also loved my green glasses.

We were pleased to also meet with other members of Ulafa’a initiative. Shahnaz came along to finally discover this place she was dying to see. She told us she grew up in one of these houses, the memory of the quaint courtyards as fresh as if it were yesterday. You can imagine her emotion. From modern ACs in high-rise buildings to traditional  windcatchers, (or Badgeers as they used to be called) – their only commonality – the towers!

We also had the opportunity of meeting Mahmood, aka Huvil. He is a famous Bahraini graffer (day job: traffic controller). Just the time for Melchior to gather all his messy stuff (a note book, a phone, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter when he doesn’t take mine, a pen and of course a pack of those minty crap) and he was off!

Again, we introduced our project to Huvil who seemed quite interested but reminded us he wasn’t the only graffer in town. Huvil has been featured quite a lot in the media, he is not keen on advertising it to everyone though (don’t worry Huvil, nobody reads the text, they only play the video 😉 )

We agreed to meet again next week.

Weather was cooling down as the Muezzins started their call to prayer from the nearby Mosques.  We were all sitting in the courtyard. I suddenly realized that the whole conversation had been guided by the women.

Hasn’t this been the case since the beginning of our journey here? Maybe this is the encounter we were heading towards – an encounter with women’s determination to change the local art scene and perhaps, the World.

To be continued…

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