Welcome to our ‘Spotlight on’ series, where each week we will highlight talent from the region.
Nabeela Al Khayer, a Bahraini contemporary artist, is known for her involvement for women’s causes. After attending the Slade School of Fine Art of London she developed her artistic training by attending workshops in Paris and Geneva. For several years her art has been traveling the world as part of group exhibitions. Since she has been awarded the Silver Leaf Award in 2003, she has been showcasing her work at solo exhibitions in the United States, Europe, Middle East and Asia.
What has become her signature is her representation of women empowerment through her art. From one collection to another, she illustrates women’s traits and specificities which relate to the diversity of ethnicities, of shapes, of social background and habits.
How did you get into art? When did you start painting?
Since my youngest age, when I started to be aware of my environment and be attentive to details surrounding me, I found myself inclined to colours and drawing everything I could see on small pieces of paper. The Bahraini heritage was often appealing to me, especially women’s costumes considering all their colours and beautiful details, carrying such remarkable aesthetics. I was very meticulous, eager to capture everything my eyes would see and put it on paper as sketches; I could only rest after finishing drawing my own perspective of what I have seen.
What inspires your work?
At first my work was inspired by women as I was always eager to bring to light their beauty and empowerment. So I used to illustrate women’s traits and specificities which relate to the diversity of ethnicities, of shapes, of social background and habits. I enjoyed using vivid colours and blending tones and shapes, showing these women in their intimacy or in their daily practices, in their joy or sadness, in realistic scenes or in abstract backgrounds. I represented women from Africa, Asia and the Middle East in backgrounds that show their regions’ traditions, norms and folklores. But lately, and progressively, I have shifted from faces to waters. More than with any other aspect of nature, I feel a unique dialogue with the shades of the seas and lakes.
What is the message that you try to convey through your art?
For me art is not a luxury or a hobby, it is more a way to emphasise the ability of women to be on the artistic scene, to be innovative and achieve outstanding successes. Through my art I also wish to highlight the Bahraini heritage and the role played by the Bahraini women in contributing in the country’s evolution and construction.
What has been your biggest obstacle to date?
Whatever the type of work you will engage you will encounter obstacles and barriers, but these were never a reason for me to stop and I continued my work with love and devotion, having faith that no obstacle can stop the passion of art.
What has been your biggest achievement?
I can say that my biggest achievement has been to prove and impose my presence on the art scene as a woman who has her own vision, her own characteristics, her own experiences. Also participating in international art forums and exhibitions in various art capitals of the world is part of this achievement. This self-realisation despite all the preoccupations of life deeply marked my art in general and I am proud of all the art awards I have received so far in Bahrain and abroad.
Does your culture and background influence your work?
I suppose that all artist is somehow impacted by his life, his culture or his background in general. For instance my work about women started with my admiration for Bahraini women, their cloths, their strength. Then it evolved with my travels, my readings, my discoveries… As an artist I express through my pieces everything that moves me and touches me , the good feelings as much as the bad ones. To me art is a sort of self-reflection, of meditation.
What is your favourite art piece of yours, and why?
Actually, I love all my pieces and I am very attached to them, but I can say that I am proud of my last works that are characterised by a modern style as I implemented a new technique that is somewhat difficult and different; a technique that hasn’t been seen locally yet. This technique reflects all my work and experiences of the last thirty years.
Where did you study? Did you study art?
I haven’t study art the way I was dreaming to as a child. I studied accounting in Kuwait then I traveled the world to learn more about art and develop my skills. I’ve taken several courses at the Slade School of Fine Art in London then I continued by attending seminars and workshops in Paris and Geneva for instance. These courses have given me insight, have shaped my art and have offered me a unique knowledge and techniques that I enjoy developing and rediscovering until today.
What do you love most about art?
The world of art is a beautiful and mesmerising world that takes you from a universe to another through the colours, customs and cultures of each place. Art encourages you to express yourself and communicate your thoughts to others. Art fills you with happiness and satisfaction. It transforms the way you see the world, in a brighter way; which makes it necessary in my opinion to encourage our children to attend art exhibitions and experience art to influence their way of thinking, their ethics, and their way of dealing with life.
What do you love about art and artists in the Middle East?
Art is a universal language and each artist has his own characteristic and style, but Arab and Middle Eastern artists are very creative and distinguished because of their rich heritage and historical background, particularly in Syria and Egypt, and as many of them has been recognised internationally, many others haven’t reached the global level yet.
Where would you like to see yourself as an artist in the next five years? What’s your dream?
I am an artist, and an artist doesn’t put himself in a specific framework or work for a specific goal. The one who enters the world of art sees in front of him an endless path of knowledge; there is always more to learn and every day we see new techniques standing out. I want to keep learning and be dazzled, committing myself to art; and as long as we feel that way we never stop learning and engaging in new and different artistic experiences.