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Six decades of pioneering art

April 18 - April 24, 2024
Gulf Weekly Six decades of pioneering art
Gulf Weekly Six decades of pioneering art
Gulf Weekly Six decades of pioneering art
Gulf Weekly Six decades of pioneering art
Gulf Weekly Six decades of pioneering art

Gulf Weekly Naman Arora
By Naman Arora

One of the pioneers of the modern contemporary art movement in Bahrain is showcasing pieces from his six decades-long career in a one-of-its-kind exhibition at the Art Centre, near Bahrain National Museum.

In his exhibition Sixty Years in the Studio, Bahraini creative Asghar Ismaeel has displayed 74 paintings and 27 sculptures, each created painstakingly over the course of his career.

“The 60 years of my journey into art started amidst Bahrain’s pristine nature, and I was privileged to spend time with art pioneers who encouraged me to pursue and nurture my hobby,” Asghar told GulfWeekly.

“I went to trade school for a short time and also gained many technical skills and then moved into a more creative path. In 1968, I joined the Arts Amateurs Association in Manama where I collaborated on theatre scenography with artists like Eman Assiri, who encouraged me to join the Arts Amateurs Association, alongside Abdulaziz Zubari, Hussain Al Sunni, Abdullatif Mufiz, and other pioneers in Bahrain.

“This exhibition marks a significant point in my life, allowing me to revisit beautiful moments and memories just like a diary. Years ago, I painted my children, and today my grandchildren have become subjects in my paintings, reinforcing their place in my life and heart.

“I wanted to share these moments through a selection of my old and recent artworks, to tell my story over the past 60 years.”

In 1973, Asghar went on to join the Contemporary Arts Association, participating in their first annual exhibition in Bahrain.

Over 60 years, he has exhibited across the Arab world, including in Egypt and the GCC.

While many artists choose to specialise in fine art or take the industry route, Asghar elected to stay at the intersection, and explored his creativity in both.

While he was painting stunning portraits and nature-inspired scenes, he also manufactured Bahrain’s first manual printing press, helping creatives like Nasser Al Yousef, Kamel Barakat, Ebrahim Busaad and Abdulkarim Al Bosta take their craft to the next level.

He also created a specialised cartooning station for Ahmed Ghuloom and would have continued his journey into woodworking and crafting if not for a terrible accident.

“In the early 1990s, due to a work-related accident, I lost several fingers on my left hand, which was the hand I used for drawing,” he explained.

“This injury heavily impacted my everyday practice, and for several years I lost the drive to create as an artist. Eventually, I managed to train my right hand to pick up drawing again, taking years until I could produce work at the same level.”

Undeterred, he continued his creative journey, delving even deeper into sculpture, while still working at a variety of factories across the kingdom.

“I found materials in my environment, gravitating towards wood as a suitable companion, then later discovering firebrick, where I started on developing realistic sculptures,” he added.

“Once again, my path intersected with my childhood friend, the late artist Khalil Al Hashimi, for whom I crafted some sculpting tools. My craftsmanship contributed to exploring and studying various art techniques, eventually leading me to delve deeper into the craft, with the British Council Library serving as a valuable resource.

“In the early 90s, I began sculpting on pieces of stone and marble acquired from construction sites, as materials were not readily available, and recently I started working with bronze.”

As a self-taught artist, Asghar’s exhibition takes visitors through his graphic printings, sculptures, carvings, portraits, nature paintings and more. His work is also part of the Bahrain National Museum Collection as well as in private collections in Bahrain and internationally.

Within his body of work are frequently repeated elements drawn from Bahraini heritage and glimpses of daily life.

His unique work reflects the lives of everyday people within Bahraini society particularly featuring the female form as a symbol of her important role in society.

Sixty Years in the Studio opened on Monday and continues until April 29.

For details, follow @asghar_ismaeel on Instagram.

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