When Gallery Bawa launched in October 2020, it entered a rather shaky art market. Despite the many online auctions and virtual viewing rooms around the world, major art fairs always postponed or canceled their events. In March, the Art Basel and UBS Art Market report noted that global sales of art and antiques fell 22% in 2020 and did not expect a very promising year 2021.
Kuwait City Bawa’s digital gallery, however, managed to defy the fall. During his first year, founder Bandar Al-Wazzan says he managed to turn a profit. And that’s not all: for its last exhibition of the year, the gallery is collaborating with one of Saudi Arabia’s greatest artists, Ahmed Mater, to present his first digital art adventure.
Bawa was born during the pandemic, though its beginnings date back to earlier, when Al-Wazzan, 23, was a business student at Northeastern University in Boston. Visiting galleries in the United States, especially New York, he wondered why Gulf artists were so rare. “The question was always, ‘Why can’t I see artists near where I come from on these walls? “, He said. “I started to get excited about the art world, why some pieces sell for millions and others don’t.
In the second half of 2019, Al Wazzan did a six-month internship at Christie’s Dubai, where he became more interested in the art market and worked on his first auction, a fundraising operation for the neighborhood. history of Al Balad in Jeddah.
When he returned to Northeastern University to graduate, he set out to put together a group exhibition of Arab artists at the Lebanese American University, which has a center in New York. The pandemic upset those plans, and Al-Wazzan relocated to Kuwait City when Covid-19 was at its peak last year. Looking back, he says he knew it was an ambitious pitch, especially for a young graduate who didn’t yet have the network to produce a show, but it helped cement his desire to work in art. .
He spent the following months studying the art market, the Gulf art scene, and understanding the gallery model. By the time his digital gallery website went live in 2020, he had lined up the next artists he wanted to showcase, mainly highlighting young, emerging artists whose practices he admired.
So far he has worked with artists such as Alymamah Rashed from Kuwait, presenting his female body series titled Muslim Cyborg, and Athoub Albusaily, artist living in Abu Dhabi, whose work Non-terrestrial examines the landscape of his native Kuwait through engravings and tracing paper.
Bawa’s current show, titled Infinite magnetism, is a generative work of art based on the famous Magnetism from 2009. The original artwork features a solid cubic magnet surrounded by iron shavings, forming an abstract miniature replica of pilgrims circling the Kaaba.
Months before Infinite magnetism, Al-Wazzan and Mater had various discussions and both hoped to do more than just sell new work online.
Al-Wazzan had come across the mechanical map of the drawings of Hind Al Saad, a coder from Doha, who could program a drawing machine to produce illustrations based on a generative system.
In the end, the idea was such – Infinite magnetism would exist forever, creating endless iterations of Mater’s artwork, materialized as ink on mechanical paper drawings.
Al Saad wrote the code so that each drawing generated had an outline similar to the one Magnetism: a black square in the middle with notches, similar to iron filings, radiating from the center and arranging in a random and unique way each time.
There are currently 7,777,777 editions available, and in 10 years the code will automatically increase it to 77,777,777. In 10 years another “7” will be added to the code and so on until perpetuity.
This experimental approach to working with artists is part of Bawa’s style. In April of this year, Al-Wazzan was among the first Gulf galleries to venture into the NFTs with a solo by Saudi artist Ahaad Alamoudi, whose founder admits he only sold one work. out of six (“one more than we expected,” he says), but the sentiment was a milestone in the crypto art space. “It was very early for this kind of exhibition and [it] was more of a statement, ”he explains, saying he expects the work to sell in a few years.
Bawa also operates at a different speed, averaging one show per month. In total, it presented three “seasons” over the year, with four shows per season. Additionally, he has his spontaneous “Mono” platform, where the gallery presents a piece of art for sale with no set schedule, advertised just 24 hours earlier on Bawa’s Instagram before it was uploaded to the website.
Al-Wazzan’s goal, he says, is to speak directly to artists about their practice and to build a base of young collectors in the region. Most of Bawa is self-taught and self-sufficient, with the gallerist building and managing the website himself. For each exhibition, Al-Wazzan films and posts a video interview with the artist, where he discusses his work.
“The gallery exists to let artists do whatever they want to do. My end goal is to fully represent an artist and allow him to do nothing but create the art he wants to create, ”he says.
In addition to facing the challenges of logistics and shipping, Al-Wazzan also faces a bigger task – fostering artistic patronage and support in a fairly nascent market like Kuwait and parts of the Khaleeji scene. “It’s important to create a new culture of collecting, to talk to people in the region who are interested in artists and to get them to identify directly with the work,” he says. When dealing with potential collectors, he often engages personally with them to understand their interest in the artist and the work.
Bawa’s long-term goal dates back to his early days, when Al-Wazzan was still a student – seeing more Khaleeji artists on the international art scene. “I would like Bawa to be known for attracting new audiences from all over the world to these artists,” he says. “When people go to art fairs and see artists from Bahrain, Kuwait or the Gulf, I don’t want them to be shocked. It should just be a normal thing. It should just be part of the global art market.
More information on the Bawa Gallery is at galeriebawa.com
Update: December 29, 2021 6:49 am