Bahrain Art Week: Nine Minutes with Aysha Almoayyed, Salman AlNajem & Mohammed Al Mahdi

As part of After Nyne’s ongoing partnership with Bahrain Art Week, it’s our pleasure to be able to present interviews with Aysha Almoayyed, Salman AlNajem and Mohammed Al Mahdi.

These three artists are part of the line-up of extraordinary Bahraini artists taking part in Accumulation: Legacy and Memory at Alon Zakaim until November 28th.

How did you come to be part of the line-up of artists taking part in Accumulation?

Salman AlNajem: I have exhibited with ArtBAB a few times and have had much success with them. This exhibition is a continuation of this positive relationship.

Ayesha Almoayyed: I applied to be exhibited in the ArtBAB annual show and got in. And, since then, the team approach me if they feel like my work suits any of their other exhibitions. It’s been such a pleasure working with them.

Mohammed Al Mahdi: The curators thought my works suited the themes of this exhibition and I was chosen to participate.

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SAN: It is a form of release to me. I pride myself on being sensitive to my surroundings and all I feel; making art is a good way to transfer this sensitive energy out. I like critiquing and shedding light on issues that we usually turn a blind eye to. My work, in a way, is also a conversation I have with myself to gain a better understanding of my own mind by unraveling my encrypted deep thoughts. Most of my paintings start as sketches that I make by shutting off my consciousness and letting my subconscious take the proverbial wheel – that is my pen wielding hand.

AA: I try to keep things light even though I deal with some heavy imagery. But, I think the essence of it is to explore different avenues to connect ideas and people together.

MAM: I draw from the memory of the child and I find that this memory varies from one period to another. This imbalance can be seen in the form and abstraction of shape and colour. The reason I have chosen to pursue this method of childlike drawing relates to a car accident when I was only five years old – this shocked me profoundly and I still deeply remember this incident and suffer as a result.

Did you always intend to pursue a career as an artist?

SAN: Even since I’ve been a child I’ve always looked for a way to escape reality and I feel like making art is a good way to do so.

AA: Yes, I think my life would be much less fullfulling without it. Making the work is a very therapeutic process for me.

MAM: I started drawing from a very early age. There are several vivid memories of incidents that pushed me to become a painter. I was four years old and the pen was one of my first toys along with a horse and a car. When I was only a young child, I was hospitalised to undergo treatment after an automobile accident – while I was there, the nurse asked me to draw her. My primary school art teacher said to me that I was talented and thought I would become an artist. Friends from my childhood don’t call me by my name but simply “the painter”. My art teacher at middle school once pointed at me in class and said to everyone that, in the future, I will be an artist. One of the most renowned pioneers of art in Bahrain also said to me that I will have an affair in art. It seems everyone foresaw my path.


What can you tell about the works you are showing as part of Accumulation?

SAN: FN F1 is the shortcut on computers to decrease the screen’s brightness. My painting aims to add motion to transcend the viewer so, instead of looking at a still car, it transforms the experience to a fast driving car, with shining blinding lights that’s coming towards the viewer – you almost feel that when the car hits, there won’t be light at all. The text on the painting reads “What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is mine too” which aims to be ominous words from a powerful entity more powerful than we can ever be. Elon Musk recently spoke saying that AI technology is advancing and that soon there will be more artificial intelligence than human intelligence which may be a threat to humanity. The spooky figures on the top of the paintings are symbols of the threat AI may present to humans. Musk says “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon” so we should be careful.

FN F2 is the shortcut on computers to increase the screen’s brightness. The painting celebrates the human form with a faded and not so clear outline of a woman’s body on the right, to emphasise the uniqueness of humans via the body which may lose its finite value as technology advances. The figures and symbols in the middle act as a simile to what it could be like when the technological advancement of the “neural link” is implemented and human becomes no longer human. Neural link, simplistically is abolishing the method of using technology via the thumbs, and speed up the process by connecting the mind to technology to create a high bandwidth interface to become symbiotic with AI. The cube symbolisms the universe, and its inevitable deformity in the future as we humans will no longer recognise it as what it is, its a reoccurring symbol in my work and is expressed in multiple dimensions. It serves the painting in questioning what, who and where the world stands in all of this. And finally, the text reads “no more sorrow” because when the time comes, you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

AA: The pieces I’m showing at the Accumulation exhibition span five years of my practice. I have never seen them shown together and I loved the way you could see the same idea reworked and transformed from year to year. Also adding to the subject topic of ritual preservation and memory transferral.

MAM: As I explained to you, my work in the exhibition focuses on the memories of my childhood, which were destroyed after I was in a car accident – I’ve also recently been in two other accidents. I see the car take the form of a monster and a predator. The yellow light and strong lines you see in my work depict shock and the feeling of pain.


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What do you feel makes Bahrain unique as a centre for art and culture?

SAN: Bahrain is unique in its own way; it is a country that is very attached to the past and values tradition. Bahrain and Bahrainis are very nationally driven and pride themselves on making work for and about Bahrain. This strong connection creates an interesting flavour that is not found anywhere else.

AA: Bahrain is completely unexplored from an artistic perspective. There is a lot of raw material to investigate. I think that there is still plenty of room for art to grow and that has an exciting energy and potential about it.

MAM: The history of Bahrain is ancient. Many civilisations have passed through it including the civilisation of Tylos, the civilisation of Erdos and the civilisation of Awal. In Bahrain, we have handicrafts such as basket making, pottery, shipbuilding, and so on. I believe that preserving the country’s historical heritage is the first step to establishing a historical base of art.

Who have been your greatest influences and inspirations?

SAN: I am inspired by philosophy mostly existentialist philosophers like Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre and painters like JWM Turner, Claude Monet, Cy Twombly and Francis Bacon.

AA: Ragnar Kjartansson’s work is very intimate and I love the seemingly effortless way he handles so many different mediums. He is very inspirational.

MAM: When I was studying academic painting in my twenties, I adored the knowledge of Da Vinci and the purity and honesty of Van Gogh. I leaned towards expressive artists such as Bremer and Goya, the dreams of Chagall and the light and shadows of Rembrandt. This artistic legacy, left by the greatest of Western artists, has remained with us and it represents my school of thought.


Why should people come and see Accumulation?

SAN: Accumulation is an interesting show that brings different artists together who work in different practices, brought together by their country. The links between the works are very subtle and interesting to find. Accumulation also allows the viewer a peak into Bahrain via that arts.

AA: If they are interested in gaining an alternative type of insight into the lives of people that live in Bahrain then I think it would be very interesting for them. Plus it’s free.

MAM: I think a visit to this exhibition is necessary in order for audiences to understand how the Arab artist thinks through art. It demonstrates how we have learnt about Western cultures through Western artists.


Accumulation: Legacy and Memory is on at Alon Zakaim Fine Art through November 28th. Check website for opening times
Images in order: Salman AlNajem, Aysha Almoayyed & Mohammed Al Mahdi by Sam Roberts