Bahraini artist AbdulRahim Sharif on receiving France’s highest arts honour

Bahraini artist AbdulRahim Sharif on receiving France’s highest arts honour

Daniel Robinson

If there’s one thing artist AbdulRahim Sharif doesn’t like, it’s adopting a formula in his work.

And it seems that is, in fact, the winning formula, as the Bahraini painter, one of the island’s foremost talents, was recently awarded one of France’s most prestigious honours for people in the arts.

Sharif, 68, who was born in Manama in 1954, was recognised as a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. The accolade is awarded to a select number of people annually to recognise significant contributions made in the arts and literature, with the likes of Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, and actors Mads Mikkelsen, Cate Blanchett and George Clooney having received it in the past.

Who is AbdulRahim Sharif?

Sharif studied at the famous Ecole nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris under the tutelage of sculptor Marcel Gili in the 1970s, where he won both the Pierre David-Weill and La Grande Masse des Beaux-Arts prizes for drawing.

After a period developing his craft in New York at the Parsons School of Design (part of The New School), he returned to Bahrain in 1982, where a health crisis led Sharif to reopen his New York portfolio and re-evaluate his work.

“It took me back to something I’d been interested in from my youth,” he tells The National. “And that was the concept of immortality. This issue has stayed with me since I was painting instinctively as a younger man. It took time for me to realise that immortality was the beating heart of my work.”

He started to incorporate surprising elements into his art, pushing back against conventional practice and even playfully calling one of his exhibitions Who Says It Doesn’t Work?, featuring pieces such as his Bathtub series, toying with viewer expectations.

'Bathtub – White Hat', 180x150cm, oil on canvas, 2013, by AbdulRahim Sharif.
‘Bathtub – White Hat’, 180x150cm, oil on canvas, 2013, by AbdulRahim Sharif.

“I am moving more and more towards works with physical and mental energy,” says Sharif. “This gave me the freedom to paint anything. I am against formula.”

A reputation gone global

Sharif’s reputation has gone far beyond Bahrain and even New York City.

He used to teach students who’d moved to the kingdom from Europe and America. As his students left the Gulf and returned to their home countries, they took the art and name with them.

“The banks were booming at that time and I sold a lot of my work to expats in the industry,” he says. “Then locals started coming to the workshops and getting interesting in paintings. Suddenly, there was a local market that hadn’t been there before.”

As his reputation grew abroad, so it grew at home. Sharif won the Dilmun Award in the late 1970s, as well as the Dana Grand Award twice in the 1990s.

He was also a founder of the Bahrain Art Society, helping to bring a new generation of Bahraini artists into the wider art world.

A lifetime’s reward

Now, after nearly 50 years working in the arts, Sharif has collected perhaps his most prestigious award yet with the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

'River of Sin V', 110x200cm, oil on canvas, 2021, by AbdulRahim Sharif.
‘River of Sin V’, 110x200cm, oil on canvas, 2021, by AbdulRahim Sharif.

“It means a lot,” says Sharif. “It’s one of the most important awards France can give. Even though I’ve had a lot of appreciation in my life, I’m very proud of this one”.

The award was presented in a small-scale ceremony at the French Embassy in Bahrain, attended by a few of Sharif’s family members and Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, president of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities.

It was a fitting tribute to Sharif’s lifetime of work and now his mind has turned to his legacy.

Sharif and his son Hisham, also a talented artist, have recently launched a joint exhibition titled Sharif & Sharif, which runs until Wednesday, February 23, at the Bahrain Art Centre. It shows their individual creative journeys and speaking to a “common understanding and concern for humanity, especially in the face of corruption, war and violence, and a common desire for society to start again”.

Sharif also aims to use the knowledge and skill he’s accumulated to help the next generation of artists in the region. “Teaching for me is an addiction. I want to ignite this again,” he explains.

“One of my plans, if God gives me health and long life, is to establish a school where we take care of talented artists from the region.”

Courtesy: thenationalnews

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