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When he is not busy curating his 500-strong and growing autograph collection, memorabilia maverick Hamad Al Kooheji is busy moulding an alternative future for Bahrain’s clay industry with his handmade statues.
The young Bahraini creator from Riffa has been putting a little piece of his own heritage into each pop culture miniature using raw materials from the area known for its high-quality and easily malleable clay.
“The pottery industry that has emerged from the readily available clay in Bahrain dates back thousands of years, but, of course, in this day and age, we don’t really use many clay-based utensils,” Hamad explained.
“So, when I started creating miniatures of large existing statues, I thought to myself, let’s use the same clay to create something different – same material, but a new form.”
To date, Hamad has created miniature versions of the effigies of Michael Jackson, Harry Potter, Muhammad Ali and Elvis Presley, to name a few.
Each miniature takes five to six days to complete, starting with thorough research of the original larger statue. The clay artist gets images of the sculpture from every angle.
When he was able to travel pre-Covid, he got these in person but now, by and large, he relies on internet research.
After getting the images and creating a 3D model in his mind’s eye, he starts shaping the figures layer-by-layer, a gargantuan task since he has to know when to take a break, let the clay dry and come back to it the next day.
He uses scalpels and knives to accentuate deeper details in each piece and when done, he paints over them using a metallic or coloured paint.
“For me, when I started the Masterpiece Museum, I wanted to create a place where people can learn everything about a famous character or personality in one place, without solely, relying on the internet and the statue is just another way to engage with the celebrity,” Hamad explained.
“Each one of my statues is an homage to a collection I already have. So, for example, I have a lot of Harry Potter autographs, LEGO models and collectibles, so I created a miniature version of the young wizard’s statue in Leicester Square in London, UK.”
Beyond the miniature statues sprinkled amongst his museum of memorabilia, Hamad, who has been fascinated with miniature versions of icons since childhood, has also been trying to preserve aspects of Bahrain’s architecture and large-scale art with his miniatures.
He created a wooden model of the famous clock tower in Riffa to forever preserve its memory. The easily-recognisable tower has been the subject of much debate recently as the Southern Municipal Council approved a plan to revamp roads in that area and potentially move the iconic building.
No matter how successful that is, Hamad has his own miniature version of the tower and wants to start working on some of the sculptures dotted across the kingdom.
“It’s not always possible for people to appreciate every angle of a large sculpture especially when they are just passing by so by creating these miniatures, I am hoping that people take some time to appreciate the artistic talent that Bahrain has to offer in a more digestible size,” Hamad explained.
“For example, I have been hoping to do the nearly 40-year-old falcon statue in Muharraq which may not always get the attention it deserves because people just drive by it. But in this museum setting, people can take time to appreciate its beauty.”
As his autograph collection grows, so will his miniature portfolio, and with each lump of clay, this young Bahraini artist blends a bit of ‘Bahrainia’ with the global ‘nerdvana’ zeitgeist.