Culture Weekly

Portraits that tell a tale

February 28 - March 5, 2024
Gulf Weekly Portraits that tell a tale
Gulf Weekly Portraits that tell a tale
Gulf Weekly Portraits that tell a tale
Gulf Weekly Portraits that tell a tale
Gulf Weekly Portraits that tell a tale

A young Bahraini artist is spotlighting the country’s rich tradition and heritage through her evocative paintings that are on display at the Bahrain Annual Fine Arts Exhibition.

Zain Almutawa has showcased four colourful pieces - her first-ever contribution to the annual showcase - depicting a family of skilled craftsmen from the traditional pottery industry in A’ali.

The paintings tell the story of the three sons of Abdulrahim Abdulaziz, who took on their father’s workshop despite the onslaught of modernisation and the disappearance of good-quality Bahraini clay.

The brothers, Ali, Abdulnabi and Hussain, who have been practicing the craft since childhood, braved all odds and operate the workshop to this day.

Zain was commissioned to paint seven pieces for an ethnographic documentation of pottery in A’ali, written by a group of local designers and architects named Bahraini Danish.

“I don’t know much about pottery but I enjoyed working on the pieces as it resonates with the type of themes I gravitate towards which include people doing their own things, or painting typographic elements,” the 26-year-old graphic designer told GulfWeekly.

While four of them are on display at the showcase, the ethnography, along with the portraits of the Abdulrahim brothers, appear in a book published by Irthi Contemporary Arts Council in Sharjah, UAE.

“It’s nice to be honoured in an exhibition at the museum, and I’m grateful for the opportunity,” she added.

Family and heritage are a common theme in Zain’s paintings, boasting a large repertoire of pieces chronicling her personal life as she grows and changes, along with her family members.

“I find it interesting to document phases of where I’m at with life, and which stage I’m in. These self-portraits also document how my skill level and self-interpretation have changed over the years,” the creative explained.

Zain likes to document her life and family history by painting photos from her phone’s camera roll, or by diving into old family albums to find inspiration. Subjects commonly featured are herself, her parents and siblings, along with nostalgic recollections of childhood memories, family gatherings, birthdays, religious occasions like Umrah and Ashura, and more.

“Painting people I personally know helps me to connect with the artwork better, and I always enjoy the challenge of matching their persona and essence to their physical manifestation,” she said.

Beside portraits, she also paints mundane yet beautiful sights from all over Bahrain, along with everyday items and routine scenes.

Despite being colourful and full of life, her pieces can seem incomplete, with wild acrylic-paint brushstrokes going in several directions and sometimes resembling a sketch.

“My paintings do have an unfinished feel to them, but between me and myself, they are finished. I think I’m very chaotic with my brushstrokes, which represents my need to feel a sense of freedom when I paint.

“I stop painting once I feel like I have captured enough elements to shape the narrative aspect of the painting and its composition.

“I don’t focus on trying to polish and capture every single detail – I just paint what I feel is necessary for the painting,” she revealed.

Zain said she is more focused on the act of making art rather than the final piece, describing her art philosophy as ‘process-forward’ rather than ‘result-oriented’.

“It’s easy to be preoccupied with painting in a style that will be liked by people, and there is sometimes a fear of facing yourself or coming to terms with who you are. But great work comes out of just being your pure self and not being wrapped up in how others may see your work,” she noted.

However, the artist added that she sometimes finds herself limited by the expectation of polished, complete art, explaining that it is ‘easy to be sucked into the details’ in contrast to treating the piece as a whole unit.

Although Zain only started taking art seriously at 18 years old, she said her goal now ‘is to be the best artist I can be, as cheesy as that sounds’.

The 50th edition of the fine arts exhibition, which opened at the Bahrain National Museum last month, was organised by the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (Baca). The golden jubilee exhibition will be open to visitors every day except Tuesday between 8am and 8pm, free of charge, until the end of April, featuring 69 artists and hundreds of art pieces.

For more details, follow @1814.127 on Instagram.

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