ArtBAB Founder Kaneka Subberwal Interview – Paul Carter Robinson

ArtBAB Founder and Director, Kaneka Subberwal

PCR: The Fair looks absolutely brilliant this year Kaneka, it’s improved in terms of the setup. Have you got a new company?

KS: We’ve been growing a lot this year and re-inventing ourselves. With growth comes a lot of delegation! We’ve grown, so I’m no longer a one-man army, we have grown as a team, and we’ve re-done our structure, so there are professionals handling separate departments but under one vision and direction. For example, the BAB Pavilion has been handled by Art Select, but the Bahrain Room was managed separately, by JJ Valaya and assisted by Ameena Khan, and the Art and FinTech Speakers Programme is being handled by UNFOLD Art XChange.

 ArtBAB Founder and Director, Kaneka Subberwal
ArtBAB Founder and Director, Kaneka Subberwal

PCR: There is a robust talks programme this year (UNFOLD Speakers Programme). How has this come to be?

KS: I was asked by UNFOLD last year to speak on an art investment panel, which I have done for a while. When they approached me, I learned a lot about them and what they do and invited them to ArtBAB 2019. We were inspired to create a Speakers Programme discussing the business side of art this year. The business of art is an important objective, and there can be a mental block for many people and companies, and not-for-profits, so it’s essential to encourage conversation about the business of art, how business and cultural development grows and can incorporate new technology and techniques.

PCR: There is a focus on technology this year, with the VR Corner and talks on technology in the art world. Can you tell me about it and how is this inspiring the direction that the fair is taking?

KS: The theme for this year is ‘Legacies’. Bahrain has a deep-rooted cultural heritage and legacy, and the artists have institutional integrity, but part of that culture includes stepping into tomorrow. We want to bridge the two and balance the old and new. These new age techniques may or may not resolve current problems but they can try, and we need to experiment with new technologies as they become more prominent.

PCR: Tell me about the Bahraini artists who are exhibiting this year.

VIP Preview Of ArtBAB 2019
VIP Preview Of ArtBAB 2019

KS: Our central focus this year is the BAB Pavilion. This year had the most applicants, with 126, of which we selected 30 artists. The selectors’ panel members international, so they have to select the local Bahraini artists based purely on the quality of the work. The centrepiece is a collaboration between Bahraini Danish and Hala Kaiksow. They were given the centre space as their works have been acquired by the V&A in London this year. We want to encourage those who are doing well and encourage others to be successful. The BAB Pavilion is becoming more and more an experimental space for younger artists, much like a Project Space. This is a world-class piece of work that could go anywhere.

PCR: Is there anything you would like to be asked Kaneka that no one has asked you yet?

KS: This year has been our best year so far, with Paris and Singapore. It’s not just that the fair has changed, but that the perception of the fair and more widely culture in Bahrain has changed.

PCR: Bahrain is improving its culture, as I’ve seen while I’ve been here. Bahrain is on its way to being put on the tourist map.

KS: Absolutely, as it should be. It is one of the prettiest countries and in terms of cultural and societal depth. We often associate quality with size, but there is so much to every aspect of Bahrain. There is so much to be done to realise the worth of this island country

Text/Photos: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2019

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