Celebrating the vibrant work of contemporary Bahraini artist Shaikh Rashid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Vogue brings forth fashion that is ready to bloom this season.
HE Shaikh Rashid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa is a man of many hats. An artist, he is currently hard at work preparing his solo show opening this month in Baku, Azerbaijan, at the Heydar Aliyev Center designed by Zaha Hadid. He will present in a large space with new pieces created over the past year; one stretches to about eight meters long. This is far from his debut exhibition. The artist had his first of almost a dozen solo shows at 18 and went on to participate in group displays, fairs, and biennials. He is particularly proud of his exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London in 2018. In parallel to pursuing his career as an artist, art collector, and patron, he has served in various Bahraini government positions throughout his entire life. Currently, he is the chairman of the National Council of the Arts and is honorary chairman of the Bahrain Arts Society.
Shaikh Al Khalifa’s unlikely entry into the world of art began at school. He shares that as a young man he “liked being in art class and enjoyed it more than any of the other subjects.” When he finished high school in Bahrain, he obtained a scholarship to study in the UK. This time abroad proved enlightening. Shaikh Al Khalifa recalls, “I studied art and design and of course, seeing all the museums, art galleries, and other artists, it opened up my horizon and mind.” He then returned to Bahrain and continued painting along with his other official duties. Soon, he set up an arts club with a few other artist friends: the Bahrain Arts Society. With the encouragement and support of family, friends, and the Ministry of Culture, they held exhibitions and invited artists from outside Bahrain to showcase their work as well.
In the midst of his time as a student in the UK, Shaikh Al Khalifa also began to collect art. “During one of my visits to galleries, I saw a drawing by Henry Moore,” he recalls. “It was 600 pounds and I managed to save my money so I could buy it. At the time, my pocket money was 200 pounds a month, so my friends thought I was crazy. I was so proud of it. I think I was around 21 years old at the time.” Back in Bahrain, he continued to collect and exchange with other artists. Today, the Moore painting hangs on his light-filled walls along with dozens of other works at the RAK Foundation – a converted, traditional Bahraini house built in the Thirties, which was in fact where he was raised and lived with his mother. At the entrance, a plaque states, “This house was built in 1349 AH – 1930 by Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa Ruler of Bahrain for his wife Shaikha Aisha bint Rashid Al Khalifa.” Shaikh Rashid’s own works, along with pieces from his art collection, are displayed throughout the property. He mentions that it was never his intention to amass art, but that he acquired what he liked. His collection now contains works of artists from all over the Middle East, America, and Europe, such as Farhad Moshiri, Mounir Sharaoudy Farmanfarmaian, Frank Stella, and Yves Klein.
When asked about what it feels like to manage different occupations, and fight initial preconceived ideas around the importance of art in the Arab world, the artist answers quickly and honestly, stating, “I was always requested to have a proper job in government, which is my duty. I have held various positions, which I have enjoyed. I never depended on art as my career, but I continue to paint. I feel at ease, and I am fortunate to be able to do things at my own pace and on my own time.” Shaikh Al Khalifa’s work has evolved and grown over the years. His early pieces were mainly based on the landscapes of his country. He then moved into more figurative work, such as the flowers that inspired the fashion shoot accompanying this piece, and over time, details started to slip away, and his work became more abstract.
He explains that his interest in color led to new avenues. “Instead of canvas, I started looking at different materials to replace it. I ended up with aluminum, but this is challenging, as you must use enamel paint, which I am sensitive to.” The artist welcomes any challenge with curiosity and discipline. He is also the father of six children, and his eldest daughter, Shaikha Noor, is the co-founder of luxury fashion brand Noon by Noor. Creativity runs in the family and is encouraged every step of the way.
Originally published in the March 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Amine Jreissati
Fashion editor: Natalie Westernoff
Hair and makeup: Ivana Osypyshyna
Producer: Sam Allison
Model: Abuk Adier at Art Factory Studio
Paintings: Rashid Khalifa
Special thanks: Jones the Grocer
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