Kaneka Subberwal, Fairs and Program Director of ArtBAB 2019, is an art consultant, collector, curator, and keen watcher of contemporary art trends. She is self-taught in art and is much-respected for her quick-eye for talent. Kaneka launched Art Select in Bahrain in 2008, as a first-step in establishing Bahrain as a focal point for art in the West Asian region. She set up Bahrain’s first Art Lounge then expanded to art consultation to include artists, collectors, families, and corporate offices. She organized a number of art shows across Bahrain, with the present flagship being the ArtBAB fair, which has increased the commercial value of Bahraini art by a stunning 195% since its establishment in 2015. 

Kaneka’s portfolio of organizing art exhibitions is impressive—60 and counting. She began in 2005 with shows in Dubai, London, Oman, and Doha where she was able to bring in many new buyers and collectors. As an art investment expert, she not only learned to wear different hats but also carry them with great responsibility and confidence.

Malak Al-Suwaihel: If taste is subjective, how can you judge a certain piece, or rather, that a certain artistic trend will fare and thrive well at any given point in time and place?

Kaneka Subberwal: I go on record to say, my education of the arts has been from my experience. Experience is not an elective chapter, you either study the whole book or none at all. Coupled with a passion for the subject, it creates a will to learn, explore, and undertake what finally becomes a sole focus backed by instinct—a balance between factual data and gut, which has been the base on which most of my decisions ride.

M.S: How did ArtBAB come to be?

K.S: The fair is one vertical of the ArtBAB Program, primarily conceived and designed by Art Select to put the focus on the spine of the arts fraternity—the artists. When we started, ours was the only fair then that brought key galleries and artists to a common platform. The second vertical of the fair is our Artists Program, which is in its third year today, and has since travelled to Moscow, The Saatchi Gallery in London, The Grand Palais Paris, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Singapore, and Bikaner House in New Delhi, India. We have very proudly been able to showcase 65 of our key artists over these years.

M.S: ArtBAB defines itself as “Bahrain’s foremost international art fair” that strives “to attract leading international galleries to the Kingdom [of Bahrain].” How does such an outward-aiming mission statement benefit local and up-and-coming Bahraini artists? 

K.S: Regionally, Bahrain has one of the largest databases of practicing artists with a legacy of the arts that dates back over 50 years. While artists across the region carry their unique stamp, the Bahraini artist’s unique sense of identity reflects in their work the history of a small nation’s diverse community, that makes for unparalleled and critical artwork. 

As the name suggests, ArtBAB stands for ‘Art Bahrain Across Borders.’ We have created a format that crosses preconceptions and creates opportunities on the basis of talent, which makes us a significant contributor to the local and global creative economy. 

M.S: What is the theme of this year’s ArtBAB 19?

K.S: Our theme this year is ‘legacy.’ It is the synergy of the deep rooted artisanal wealth of Bahrain that even today lies in the essence and the integrity of each artist, and how that has over the years evolved and adapted, yet retained its roots. The fact that education is a key component at every vertical reflects on our talks program, which today will launch AI/VR and Blockchain in the field of art.

M.S: There are a lot of conferences lined up for ArtBAB, many of which are related to FinTech and blockchain. Do you see technology playing a big role in the arts?

K.S: Yes. We are living in dynamic times and the only way to truly figure out and understand these rapid technological changes is to live and completely immerse yourself within them. So I too am looking forward to learning and exploring these technologies, and I’m excited to see what lies in store for the merging of art and technology.

M.S: In regard to those just breaking into the art scene, who should we be looking out for as visitors to this year’s ArtBAB 2019?

K.S: We have 30 artists exhibiting in our Baab Pavilion—15 in our general entry section. Singling out any up-and-comers is difficult and ethically conflicting. However, in terms of those to look out for, there is the installation by Hala Kaiksov and the Bahraini Danish group whose line of work will be a part of the Victoria and Albert Museum collection this year. For us, this is a matter of pride, and we hope this generation of younger artists across the region keep embracing challenges and stamp their achievements globally.

A version of this article was featured in Khaleejesque’s Tenth Anniversary, March 2019 issue.

Words: Malak Al-Suwaihel
Images: ArtBAB

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