A group of artists, designers and students aim to reach out to the community by brightening up the kingdom’s bus stops and parks through colourful mosaic installations and sculptures.
The creative crusaders, otherwise known as Art Reach, all began with good friends and co-directors of the society, Lena Dajani and Rula Al Chorbachi, who wanted to make a difference in the country they call home.
Lena, a Palestinian-American artist, came up with a simple concept to bring together like-minded professionals in the art field to share their knowledge as well as collaborate on projects that could inspire and strengthen the community.
Rula, an Iraqi-British architect, quickly jumped on board the imagination express and the dynamic duo began to create public art initiatives.
In just a couple of years support has grown and the group now boasts several artists and designers, including jewellery designer Lina Muhtadi, interior designer Eva Lorijn, glass artist Giuse Maggi and others.
Dajani said: “Art Reach members include independent artists and designers whose goal is to engage the community through art-related activities and to bring diverse groups of people together while creating artistic installations around the island.
“Ultimately, we’d like to build creative landmarks throughout the island that can be explored as a public art discovery trail. On a deeper level, however, we believe that public art encourages conversation and a connection with the community in which we live. By getting the community to participate in our projects, we hope they will also take pride and ownership of their surroundings and look after them.”
The medley of international and local members thought long and hard to find a fitting initiative that would put a smile on the faces of local and expats. That is when they decided to create mosaic benches and sculptures to beautify Bahrain’s streets.
A proposal was sent out to different ministries and organisations, including the Northern Area Municipality, to make this vision become a reality. The members proposed the concept under a municipality initiative called Fikra, which means ‘idea’ in Arabic, and encourages suggestions from the community.
The Northern Area Municipality approved Art Reach’s proposal for implementation in January and their creative journey took off from there.
Thanks to the municipality’s generous funding and the guidance of Art Reach members, nine mosaic workshops were conducted, free-of-charge to all participants, in order to produce art work to be used for public parks and roads.
Approximately 120 volunteers, aged nine to 77, participated in the workshops, including students, artists and designers of different backgrounds, including Mexican, British, American, Canadian, Lebanese, Bahraini, Palestinian, Pakistani, Indian, Yemeni, Saudi, Dutch, Japanese, Austrian, Jordanian, Irish, South African, Belgian, Italian and French.
Pupils from 10 different schools took part in the campaign too. The members and volunteers met in private homes to put the mosaics together and some of the workshops were also held in Al Jasra Handicrafts Centre and Shakhura Youth Centre.
Rula said: “We had contributions from many people from different communities and professional backgrounds that added richness and interest to our workshops. “Artist Sabine Al Gosaibi was a source of inspiration, technical know-how and support while we were planning our first mosaic project last year.
“Local artists Yusra Ahmed Ali, Dawiya Ebrahim Youssef, Salwa Al Qayid and Sawsan Al Qattan helped identify sponsors and participants within the Bahraini community.
“We were also thrilled to have students on board. Since many international schools require community service or creative hours to fulfil academic requirements, it was an ideal opportunity both for students and Art Reach.
“Participants were encouraged to be creative when deciding on their mosaic design and there was great satisfaction for them to see the mosaic built after they had taken part in the creative process.
“We also found that participants, who joined our workshops a few times, acquired the skills to teach others and gained valuable leadership and teamwork experience.
“This is the beauty of collective art projects and we would like others, including university students and government school students and their teachers, to benefit too.”
The first public art project was unveiled on Budaiya Avenue in March. The municipality’s general director, Yousef Al Ghatam, was present along with some of the students who created the mosaic work for the bus stop near Cypress Gardens.
Art Reach received tremendous interest from the public as a result and continued forth on their mission to spread colour and creativity. Since then, two other mosaic projects have been completed, a shaded mosaic bench to be installed in a bus stop in Saar and 64 exceptionally-designed mosaic panels to be mounted in a walk-through spiral maze for a park in Budaiya.
The building works for the maze, co-ordinated by the Northern Area Municipality, is pending completion in September. Art Reach will supervise the installation of these mosaics in the near future.
The crew still has more in store for the island. Dajani said: “In addition to beautifying the streets and parks of Bahrain, our broader mission is to inspire creativity, teach new skills and promote the value of working for the benefit of others. Our hope is that through this artistic collaboration, students and other members of the community will learn that they can make a positive change to their environment.
“We would like to create projects and installations that will make an impact and add colour and interest in the community.
“We have our heart set on creating mosaic sculptures for a park and other large-scale installations. We know this is ambitious, but we think that with the right collaboration and support it will happen.
“This initiative is, at its core, a community project, so we need much more help. Ideally, art teachers and community service organisers in schools or companies will get involved and become regular contributors.”
At the moment, the group is on the lookout for a large space to continue making mosaic magic happen as well as sponsors and contractors.
Rula added: “First and foremost, Art Reach needs to solve its space issue. Until now, members and volunteers have met in private homes and in Al Jasra Handicrafts Centre and Shakhura Youth Centre.
“In order for us to work more productively, we need a dedicated space. We are looking for sponsors for a studio with storage facilities that can allow us to meet regularly and conduct our workshops.
“We are also interested in hearing from contractors who would like to get involved or willing to sponsor a project. Cement work, mosaic tiling and sculptural features will be needed in upcoming projects. We have many ideas but we need the community’s support to make it happen.”