The tiny cluster of 33 islands that make up Bahrain may be the smallest Arab country in the world, yet it is fast emerging as one of the Gulf’s new art Mecca.

Home to the ancient Dilmun civilisation, Bahrain is today a modern progressive country with its creative juices flowing. Buzzing with annual art festivals, government-funded art projects, vibrant galleries, museums and private initiatives showcasing local as well as global talent, it is attracting the attention of international media and travellers.

Invited to the beautiful kingdom ~ nestled between Qatar and Saudi Arabia in the Arabian Gulf ~ I leveraged the opportunity to check out the country’s new art venues, its major attractions and exquisite architecture.

My trip began with a visit to the National Museum in Manama, the Capital city. Housed in a multi-tiered, postmodern building, it showcases a trove of fascinating exhibits ~ coins, seals, household items ~ from the 5,000-year-old Bahraini civilisation.

Bahrain Fort, another cultural gem from the 17th century, is a stony, expansive masterpiece designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 due to its archaeological importance. Forts at Riffa and Arad, other stellar examples of ancient architecture, added to the heft of my itinerary.

However, it was the Ahmed Al Fateh Grand Mosque in downtown Manama, one of the Gulf’s most important shrines, that took my breath away. “It can accommodate 7,000 worshipers at one time,” the guide told me as I perambulated the shrine’s ramparts, squinting my eyes against the burnished afternoon sky. The mosque’s stunning fibre glass dome is the world’s largest.

All about art

Serendipitously, my visit also synchronised with the Art Bahrain Across Borders (BAB), one of the kingdom’s pioneering art initiatives held under the auspices of the royalty that has caught the attention of international art lovers.

The event has grown from strength to strength and the third edition of the five-day fair this year featured a BAB Pavilion, a formidable line-up of Bahraini and international artists selected by an international jury, alongside an International Artists’ Pavilion, a Gallery Arena, hosting local and international galleries, an art book shop and a merchandising and design section. An art and education programme called [email protected] also attracted big crowds.

“Bahrain’s art sector is slowly emerging as a viable industry with vast potential to become an engine of economic growth,” Kaneka Subberwal, Founder and Director ArtBAB, said inaugurating the show.

“Our mission is to attract leading international galleries to the Kingdom, so powering the expansion of the art market while facilitating the development of local Bahraini artists. In this sense, ArtBAB is the bridge between Bahrain and the world, and the narrative of each fair will reflect this.”

Artists and gallerists at ArtBAB were excited about exhibiting in Manama. Indian artists like Jaideep Mehrotra and Simrin Mehra Agarwal, who showcased their works, felt the kingdom’s outreach to the creative global community is a catalyst for cultural growth.

According to Stephan Stoyanov, founder Art Agency in Sofia, Bulgaria, Bahrain is attracting a lot of interest from global talent because of its unique positioning. “The kingdom is at a crossroads of many ancient cultures. It has learnt to embrace varied influences that form the warp and the weft of its cultural fabric. The country’s inclusiveness and its respect for art is what appeals to me most about it.”

Stoyanov’s stunning art piece ~ Flowers For You ~ attracted a lot of attention at Art BAB. Its creator ~ acclaimed Georgian artist Zurab Tzereteli ~ crafted his imagery keeping in mind his artistic philosophy.

To the artist flowers are not simply still life, they are the very concept of his artistic development and unique vision. Through the language of flowers the artist shares with his viewers both joy and sorrow, love and pain, constantly exercising the eyes, imagination and perception of the world.

“Almost anywhere I have lived, whether Moscow, Paris or New York, I have lacked sufficient light. Just look how many days are dull, for want of sunshine. Flowers give me my share of sunlight! They fulfil me with a sense of vital, rich colour,” the artist said.

Everybody who thronged to Tzereteli’s work at ArtBAB couldn’t help but agree with the genius’ unique vision.