National Pavilion UAE - In A World Of Your Own |Review of the Bahraini Pavilion by Adel Al Jabri
  • In A World Of Your Own |Review of the Bahraini Pavilion by Adel Al Jabri


    The 55th Venice Beinnale this year presents the Kingdom of Bahrain’s participation for the first time at the Arsenale. Bahrain features three works by the artists Mariam Haji, Waheeda Malullah, and Camille Zakharia.

    Mariam Haji, born in 1985, works on multiple platforms ranging from video, installation, and performance. She currently resides in beautiful Berlin, and her work has been exhibited widely. Her recent focus has been on drawing and painting. Her featured piece, “The Victory”, is an 800 by 270cm drawing (charcoal, graphite, pastel, pigment, and varnish on paper) which is the last of an autobiographical series which the artist has been working on for the past two years, through which the artist has explored personal and highly internalized conflicts relating to gender, spirituality and social norms and expectations.

    Waheeda Malullah, born 1978, lives and works in Bahrain and has a focus on photography and video. Her work can be found in the collections of the Institut du Monde Arabe and the British Museum. Her featured work at the Venice Beinnale is a series of photographs titled: “A Villagers Day Out”. The series follows a day’s outing by a young village girl, full of excitement and adventure but reverberated by apprehension through her shrouded abaya.

    Camille Zakharia, born in 1962, is originally Lebanese but has lived in Bahrain for almost 20 years. He is a documentary photographer and collage artist and his work can be found in numerous collections around the world including the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah. His featured piece is titled “C/O” which is a photo collage on paper 584 x 152cm. Through this piece, the artist re-experiences and reconfigures the photos he has taken over his life and presents them in a fragmented and random manner.

    The exhibition is commissioned by Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, and curated by Melissa Enders-Bhatia.


    Leaving the pavilion murmurs of disappointment clouded the space, as did my thoughts.  Giving the benefit of the doubt, I went there to see it for myself, and I immediately understood why. The work, in my opinion, was not captivating and did not engage my curiosity. It did not raise any questions in my head. The first piece I saw was Waheeda Malullah’s photography series “A Villager’s Day Out”. Whereas it was interesting to see, it was just really direct and for me personally, raised an issue that I think is exhausted by many female artists. True, that it is a strong message and I completely respect anyone’s point of view. But in our part of the world it is something that’s seen and talked about everyday, and the series does not introduce anything new nor does it take a peculiar approach. It’s just interesting to see.

    The next work was Mariam Haji’s “The Victory”, which was very reflective of inner struggle, everyday struggle, discrimination of gender, spirituality etc. I think the artist did a good job of pulling through on that front. It was a bit overdone for my taste, but that’s just me. And in my opinion, I think any art piece is stronger when it can convey a message without laying it flat on the wall with how direct the approach is.

    Camille Zakharia’s work, “C/O”, conveyed to me the idea of lost identities and ties between people. But again, despite it being interesting to see, it was very direct and left nothing to the imagination in my opinion.

    As a whole, I loved the exhibition was set, it was as if you were in someone’s home moving from space to space within the exhibition, which is in my opinion relevant to Bahrain’s culture as warm, friendly and welcoming. However I think the exhibition was ok, but a bit lacking in terms of direction. With two big feminist statements from both Waheeda Malullah and Mariam Haji, and then a statement on identity from Camille Zakharia, it felt out of place and disorienting somewhat. There was also a constant feeling of something missing in the exhibition however I could not put my finger on it.

    I can imagine that presenting at the Venice Beinnale for the first time can be daunting, but the Bahraini Pavilion made a good attempt. I am looking forward to see what will come in the future.

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