Bahrain's RAK Art Foundation: inside Sheikh Rashid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa's new art gallery

The gallery is based in a converted house where the painter and member of the kingdom's royal family was raised

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Sheikh Rashid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's royal family, has unveiled his extensive art collection to the public in his newly opened gallery in Riffa.

The RAK Art Foundation, situated in the converted traditional Bahraini house, where the painter and first president of the Bahrain Arts Society was raised, contains myriad works from international artists and includes a new space dedicated to his oeuvre.

Built in the 1920s, the restored building maintains its original walls and colonnade alongside new additions and repurposed spaces, which opened to visitors in December. Sheikh Rashid’s childhood bedroom is now an office-cum-library that stands beside his first artworks, which were painted directly onto the wall when he was 16 years old.

Sheikh Rashid has been an avid art collector since he was young and aims to encourage others to follow his lead with this new hub. "I hope that when guests visit the RAK Art Foundation, they might feel inspired to develop their own collections, or at the very least acknowledge the importance of sharing art with others," he tells The National.

“Not only does this benefit artists, in turn it helps grow a market and improves a culture of arts appreciation that is necessary and needed.”

'The Honor and Glory of Whaling' (1991) by Frank Stella at RAK Art Foundation in Bahrain. Courtesy RAK Art Foundation / Marine Terlizzi

The range of works on display is impressive. A huge piece by American artist Frank Stella dominates one room of the gallery. Wrought from aluminium and magnesium, his 1991 creation The Honor and Glory of Whaling draws its inspiration from Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Indeed, the work seems to crash like waves over the surface of the wall, chaotic and disorderly.

In contrast, La Vie (1995), by Kenji Yoshida, presents a tranquillity that belies the Japanese artist's harrowing experiences as a Kamikaze pilot conscripted during the Second World War.

Yoshida claimed he planned to crash his plane into the sea in order to avoid killing others, but this proximity to certain death – averted only by the end of the war – affected the artist profoundly, and his work celebrates the importance of life and peace.

'La Vie' (1995) by Kenji Yoshida, comprising gold leaf, platinum leaf and oil on canvas. Courtesy RAK Art Foundation / Marine Terlizzi.

Visitors will also get the chance to see work by Spanish painter Juan Genoves, who died last year after becoming one of the key figures in the revival of Spain’s artistic scene, following the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorial regime.

Genoves's 2009 work Oro gives us a birds-eye view of crowds fleeing bombings but, rather than an indistinguishable mass of humanity, his work attempts to give individuality and distinctness to his tiny figures.

The newest building at the RAK Art Foundation houses the work of Sheikh Rashid. Spectrum is a series of pieces that examines his enduring relationship with colour. Each work presents the opportunity for the viewer to develop a personal reaction to them. As they transition from one colour to another, its identity is altered.

Spectrum allows visitors to see Sheikh Rashid's works in context, with each element dependent on its placement within the surrounding environment, the emotional state of the viewer and the mind of the artist.

For Sheikh Rashid, the act of collecting is an articulation of the self. “Bahrain has long been rich in culture and tradition. Perhaps we have long understood how collections of objects that we happen across and connect with, help us express our identity.”

Unannounced visits are not permitted, and appointments can be booked online. Visitors can reserve a tour of the collection conducted by curator and consultant Yasmin Sharabi.

'Spectrum' (2021), a series by Sheikh Rashid Al Khalifa, exhibited at the RAK Art Foundation in Riffa, Bahrain. Courtesy RAK Art Foundation / Marine Terlizzi.