'Art should let you forget your worries, if only momentarily'
Bahraini artist Huda Al Saie talks about 'From the Land of Eternity', her German-bound exhibition opening during the Berlin Art Week this September
Huda Al Saie's voice belies her excitement (and a whiff of the usual pre-show jitters). "I am dying to, but I don't know if I will be able to attend," she says. "It's a 50-50."
Better known in Bahrain as the pioneer of porcelain art, Huda is the latest among scores of globe-trotting creative mavens caught in the travel restrictions imposed by Covid-19. She has exhibited widely in the Gulf before, and in Switzerland, but never in Germany. As her solo exhibition 'From the Land of Eternity' sets to unfurl at the aquabitArt gallery in Mitte Berlin during the Berlin Art Week (September 9-13), she hopes to make it to her dream opening.
The artist - who's been moving away from porcelain to acrylic on canvas due to the former's demanding process - admits, "Porcelain is my first love, but exploring acrylic for the last three years has taught me that it has its own beauty and logic." Rendered in abstract, the works on show acknowledge the possibilities of imagination and colour.
The best thing, curator Frances Stafford observes, is that Huda "starts with a figurative detail and then goes about abstracting it. Each painting takes weeks, and sometimes months, to layer and refine until the desired vision is achieved."
No surprise that, in the artist's own words, they carry echoes of her favourite Impressionists and Post-Impressionists - mostly Henri Matisse, Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin, whose intense colour palette she borrows. "I love their style and the way they brought alive their ordinary subjects, putting them up for people to see and appreciate as 'high art', especially Monet. An enigmatic landscape is made much more enigmatic when touched by his genius," she gushes.
The Impressionist masters revisited their own milieu and memories again and again that gave birth to a bold new aesthetic and originality. Modern art, as we know it today, was born out of their arduous efforts to combine a passionate love for natural elements with groundbreaking use of colour and composition.
Huda is following in their rather revered footsteps. Her own inspiration comes from the Bahraini life. On her ebullient canvases, or a "mirage of colour" as she calls it, you can find a typical Bahraini motif like the Dilmun seals, a bustling Arabic souq or a lady lounging in her garden.
Her much-favoured flower (a recurrent motif in her oeuvre), for example, reflects a strong female gaze that a casual visitor may overlook at first. "Nobody can interpret beauty the way a woman does," she explains. And nobody surely knows more about beauty than Huda who, thanks to her family business, has helped transform generations of Bahrainis into serious fashionistas.
Born in Muharraq, the erstwhile Bahraini capital, Huda hails from the fashion industry. Her family has run fashion boutiques since the 1970s. Along with her sister and mother, the Al Saie clan was the first to bring European and American fashions into Bahrain. As it turns out, the artist is no stranger to Germany either, as her family was also instrumental in introducing German fashion to the Gulf when they brought the Escada group to Bahrain in 1983.
Unfortunately, three years ago, Huda's mother died, after which she packed up the business to return to where she belongs - art. Painting, she insists, was always her true calling. "In the old days, I had a small studio in one of the boutiques at the Moda Mall in Manama, where I taught porcelain for 35 years and pursued my own work," recalls Huda who has a minor in Fine Arts from the American University in Beirut.
Later, she learnt classical porcelain art in Geneva and brought the technique with her to Bahrain in 1986. "Once done with the clients, I'd rush upstairs to paint or teach. Those were the best hours of my day."
Huda inherited the creative bug from her mother, a hobby artist herself who spurred her young daughters towards an artistic path. As she points out, "We are more like a family of artists. Many of my aunts are also artists, and my sister Shahrazad has her own studio in Oman. When she comes to Bahrain, she joins me in my studio to paint. As I often say, if the family dinner table conversation revolved around fashion earlier, now it's all about art."
Today, Huda lives on her farm in Al Budaiya, a sleepy coastal haven with a spacious studio tucked away in her large garden, which she largely tends to herself. Her hero, Claude Monet, was an avid gardener and painted some of the world's most exquisite and expensive landscapes, including water lilies, in his famous Giverny retreat. "I enjoy looking after my garden," she says, adding, "Monet once said, 'I must have flowers. Always.' I feel the same. When I am low, I get flowers from the garden and arrange bouquets. It's meditative."
Great art, she reckons, must yield the same emotion in its viewer. "Art should let you forget your worries, if only momentarily."