bawa interview 16/10/23
Rashed Al Araifi in Conversation with Wadha Al-Aqeedi
Rashed A. Al Araifi (b. 1992) is a Bahrain-based architect, designer, and visual artist. He explores the boundaries between painting, illustration, and object design through visual storytelling. His artistic responses bridge process and narrative, resulting in a body of work that conveys fleeting stories of previous generations, particularly those of the Arabian Peninsula. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Interior and Spatial Design from the University of the Arts London, UK (2014) and a Master’s degree in Architecture from the University for the Creative Arts, UK (2016). In 2014, he co-founded Shepherd Studio–an award-winning design firm. AlAraifi’s work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions, locally and internationally, and has won numerous awards, most notably the second place award at the Bahrain Annual Fine Arts Exhibition (2018 and 2020). In this interview, Rashed speaks with Wadha Al-Aqeedi from Mathqaf to discuss his childhood, architectural background, and current endeavours.
"I think architecture as a profession really complements my art; it creates a methodology when it comes to the process of creating a work. It is not a free flow."
WA: Hello Rashed! To begin the interview, it would be wonderful to learn about your artistic background and upbringing. Could you tell me a bit about how you were introduced to art?
RAA: Thank you Wadha. From the beginning, the arts were an essential part of my upbringing. I attribute it to my family; my father, Ahmed AlAraifi, who is both an artist and designer, as well as my uncle, Rashid Al-Oraifi (1942–2017), who was an influential artist. Growing up, I was surrounded by people who appreciated art—adorning our home with decorative elements, paintings, and furniture pieces, which created an environment that nurtured my artistic ability. Art seemed like a natural part of my life, observing my uncle and father paint around the age of three, I saw them as my heroes and mentors—they paved the way for me to follow my own journey.
WA: I would imagine that you started drawing or painting from a very young age. Do you remember your first artwork?
RAA: My first drawing was a Minaret when I was only one and a half years old. Until today, this drawing still resonates with me as it reflects much of who I am today. The fact that I used an art medium to draw something built; it is symbolic of architecture and visual arts. In retrospect, I manifested becoming both an architect and an artist.
WA: Wow, you found your calling from a very young age! That is truly special, I hope you kept this drawing—it is a metamorphic piece of your journey as an artist. Years later, you went on to pursue your passion and graduated with a BA in Interior and Spatial Design, as well as a MArch in Architecture. As you alternate between different disciplines, I am curious to know if they inform your art practice.
RAA: I think architecture as a profession really complements my art; it creates a methodology when it comes to the process of creating a work. It is not a free flow. On the contrary, it has a framework and strategy, and it sits in an environment that I would like to describe as controlled chaos. I also think that architecture informs the arts in many ways. It is a jack of all trades; it is a profession that exposes you to art, design, law, economics, and social customs. It really expanded my understanding, and helped broaden my palate beyond the canvas. As many would notice, my work is inclusive of various visual languages. They fall between figuration and abstraction.
on his artistic process
"Most of my artworks are by-products of my methodology which I like to coin as 'nonlinear storytelling'. "
WA: I am interested to know how you define your approach to art making and how narratives develop throughout the process?
RAA: I consider my body of work as visual responses rather than finished outcomes. In my work, I try to explore various visual languages. I mainly explore cultural customs of the Arabian Gulf; digging deep into cultural narratives, which leads me to straddle between the lines of painting, drawing, sculpture, and object design to create a visual body of work from that perspective. Most of my artworks are by-products of my methodology which I like to coin as ‘nonlinear storytelling’. Within a story, instead of having a person going from point A to point B, I would try to lead and guide the viewer from point A, slightly go to point Z, and then go to point C. I opt for a process of visually narrating something that is not necessarily understood from a linear perspective.
I usually employ this approach in my sculptural work. For example, in a work titled Distorted Memory (2022)—which is a traditional Bahraini door made of Solid Teak wood—I manipulated the door’s decorative ornaments to echo a disintegrating memory. In fact, it started off as a charcoal drawing that I later smudged its patterns away with my finger to mimic a distorted evocation.
Pre-defined visual mind-map of ‘Distorted memory (2022)’, showcasing the original charcoal drawing with smudged patterns and markings.
Close-up of Distorted Memory (2022): Solid Teak Wood & Gold-plated brass, 210cm X 90cm
on his current artworks
"I am interested in stories of previous generations and histories that date back to millennia."
WA: Considering that your work blurs the boundaries between different artistic disciplines–i.e., visual arts, architecture, and design–, how do you navigate these intersections in your art practice? Also, I wonder if your choice of medium is influenced by your artistic approach and narratives.
RAA: I typically dive into a new artwork with a simple piece of paper, and it starts off as a study. Similar to architecture, I always pre-define a painting by setting its parameters—as opposed to expressing directly on canvas. I never see a blank canvas in front of me and dive in directly to paint, it is always pre-defined. I apply the same logic to sculpture.
For example, I created an artwork titled Cultured Culture (2020), which appears to be a foosball table to the blind eye. Only when observed closely, one would recognise the piece’s questionable, irregular, and gestural details. I selected this medium as a design device to showcase and provide a visual commentary on the natural pearl trade in the Arabian peninsula. I display two opposing teams: the traditional pearl divers’ team, versus pearl cultivating scientists. Also, I chose to create the foosball table with teakwood, which is used to build dhows and diving ships. The piece draws on different elements that represent the opposing teams, such as the paddle-shaped handles, or equipment encased in the handles. The ball is made of wood and shows a single natural pearl.
In addition to that, I have been working on a series titled Ambidextrous Drawings for the past three years, which originates from a traditional proverb commonly known in the Gulf: “اليد الوحدة ما تصفق” (One hand does not clap). This technique relies on the movement and gestural strokes of both hands, resulting in a composition rooted in spontaneity. I have been really enjoying this series, the symphonic process provides mental and physical stamina. In fact, in this particular series, I bridge the process with narratives of memories that I have not lived, but rather memories that have been passed down to my father’s generation. I am interested in stories of previous generations and histories that date back to millennia.
ambidextrous drawings s1 #4
Ink on handmade Khadi paper
45 x 45m (framed)
ambidextrous drawings s2 #1
Ink on handmade palm tree paper
60 x 60cm (framed)
WA: In addition to being a visual artist and an architect, you cofounded Shepherd Studio, an award-winning multidisciplinary design firm headquartered in Bahrain. Can you expand on your experience with design vis-à-vis visual arts and architecture?
RAA:. My experience in design at the studio has added value to my art, and the coexistence of both practices helped shape my output. The power of collaboration and the influence of my partners has also played an integral role in informing my design decisions. For example, we designed a chair called the Tila chair, which borrows its conceptual and aesthetical language from the traditional folk game of Tila (marbles). It won the Wallpaper* Design Award in 2022, and enabled us as a collective to explore the architecture of objects as opposed to only the architecture of buildings. I believe that such experience and practice in the Design landscape lives between the same environments of my art. As I mentioned earlier, Architecture is the jack of all trades—so it exposed me to diverse subjects that feed into both of my art and design practice. I think art and architecture are both tools that I depend on in terms of workflow and methodology. It is only a matter of scale and perspective.
WA: My final question is: how do you envision your art evolving?
RAA: I want my art to add value to the social, cultural, and environmental fabrics in which we live. At the end of the day, art is a driving force for change and positivity.
WA: It certainly is! Thank you, Rashed, for taking the time to chat with me. May your art bring positivity and inspire change.