Art Diplomacy: Bahrain Art Week

Under a milky moon and a dove grey sky, sits the Saatchi. It was an ideal evening for a private viewing of Diversity, an exhibition showcasing fifteen artists from Bahrain as a part of Bahrain Art Week in London. One the fifteen talents is a dear friend of mine, Salman AlNajem.

For as long as I’ve known him, Salman is about as nonchalant on the inside as he is on the outside. His unmasked pragmatism may alarm one or two but incites many. For Salman, art is politics. He believes the artist has a duty to catalyse conversation about the social issues that swamp our world. They are, fundamentally, responsible for shedding light on things that remain confined. 

Salman’s newest series, “Blackened”, is inspired by the mortal desire for capital status and material profusion. He critiques humanity by questioning the value we place on such luxury and wealth. But despite what he may project, Salman isn’t a socialist. 

Two pieces from the series were on display last night: 

 Salman AlNajem -  House (2017)   Emulsion, oil paint, oil pastel, spray paint, graphite, ink, and glitter on canvas.

Salman AlNajem - House (2017)
Emulsion, oil paint, oil pastel, spray paint, graphite, ink, and glitter on canvas.

 Salman AlNajem -  Help (2017)   Emulsion, oil paint, oil pastel, spray paint, graphite on canvas.

Salman AlNajem - Help (2017)
Emulsion, oil paint, oil pastel, spray paint, graphite on canvas.

It's the first time that the Saatchi Gallery has exhibited Bahraini artists. Perhaps overlooked, the country boasts a rich artistic verve that encompasses painting, sculpture, architecture, fashion, theatre and digital art. Bahrain Art Week stages the work of the International Artist Programme of Art Bahrain Across Borders, seeking to expand the global influence of Bahraini artists while fostering creative ties between Bahrain and the U.K.. 

I'd agree with Salman when he says art is political. It's been a vehicle for soft power and propaganda for countless years. Originally coined by Joseph Nye, soft power refers to the ability to shape the preferences of others through attraction and appeal. Unlike hard power, which beckons the use of force and payment, soft power is inherently noncoercive and animates cooperation for the long-term. 

Governments are taking art more and more seriously, not only for its economic influence but also as a way to advocate cultural dialogue in an ever-globalising world. Ultimately, it's about story-telling. Art is a prime basis for accelerating empathy. A safe space, if you will, for learning more about each other.