Art Space Bahrain hosts Safer Spaces | The first Virtual Reality exhibition in the Middle East to tackle mental health

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It’s the very first virtual reality exhibition in the Middle East portraying a very touchy subject in the region: mental health. And while this initiative was brought to light way before Covid turned all the lights off; it’s now more relevant than ever. Esra Faraj and Zayn Al Qahtani are true visionaries who are seeking to end the Middle East’s lack of conversation around the stigma of mental health with an exhibition called ‘’Safer Spaces’’.


Esra is the Founder and Managing Director of the Art Space gallery in Bahrain, where the exhibition is being held and Zayn is not only the Project Curator of this event but also happens to be one of the 19 artists who are being brave enough to share their own unique artistic interpretations of their personal struggles and shed the darkness out of them to bring more light to the subject at hand.


Interview/Khaled Alameh




What really pushed you to pursue a project like this?

Esra Faraj: "One of the community objectives at The Art Space is to facilitate and represent creative young talents with transforming their artistic visions into reality. We help and guide them into promoting and displaying their Art in the best possible light to the international art scene. Through our many discussions with emerging artists, a recurring topic close to everyone’s hearts surfaced: ‘How can we do our part to end the taboo around the conversation of mental health in the Middle East through Art?’ This gave me the drive to put together this exhibition. I believe the first step to overcoming such a complex issue is to acknowledge, discuss and bring it to light. Only then can we see significant shifts in attitudes and creative solutions to such issues."

It’s simple elementary. Problems come before solutions, otherwise why need solutions? And this issue with not giving mental health the full attention that it needs in the Middle East is crucial. If there’s one thing this pandemic has done, it’s that it turned the world completely upside down, so you can’t really deny having to make a change in a world that has literally changed. There is no back to normal and nor should there be because that never really worked; instead it’s all about making the right efforts to adapt to the many changes that have occurred and acknowledging mental health should without a doubt be one of those priorities.



How do you feel about the sad coincidence, that this project has turned into a given necessity because of what this year has become?


Zayn Al Qahtani: "The idea of Safer Spaces was born from a need to create a ‘safe space’ for creatives to be able to voice their thoughts and feelings about mental health way back in February."

It really is a sad coincidence if that’s how you choose to look at it. Many would really just see this as perfect timing; it’s like all the pieces fell into place at just the right time because nobody really knew what was in store for this year. Regardless, this project should be happening with or without a pandemic; the only difference is that people are now giving it the right amount of attention that they probably wouldn’t have before since mental health is just among the many taboos in the Middle East and its’ cultures tend to be more judgmental rather than sympathetic towards such issues.

Esra Faraj: "A few weeks from planning the exhibition and the entire planet went into lockdown. We had to shift our course of action and adapt with the tides – that’s where the virtual reality aspect was born. We really didn’t want to give up on such a necessary project that covers such an important topic of discussion (i.e. mental health), especially during these times, especially in the Middle East."

Mental health is just way too relevant now to be putting something like this on hold. Covid shouldn’t be a reason to just sit back and wait but should inspire more determination to make this project happen as soon as possible, which it did. And thanks to modern technology, ‘’Safer Spaces’’ is still a go because it’s now providing hyper-realistic 3D renderings, thoughtful museum design, interactive commenting tools and a one-click link to shop your favorite artworks; courtesy of an amazing team of expert web developers. We are really lucky to be living in an age where we’re able to stay connected, no matter what the circumstances may be. And this exhibition is going to be able to benefit so many people and affect some real change.



Why these 19 artists?

Zayn Al Qahtani:  "I feel like the roster of artists we have is exciting because no two are coming from the same perspective or experience, visually – it creates this shimmering dialogue, a back and forth, between manifesting those authentic personal feelings into artworks and then having those artworks exist in a group setting. The Art Space was the ideal gallery partner with this endeavor because they are truly committed to fostering the talents of emerging artists in the region. The support, knowledge and instruction they provide is unprecedented, and I feel like together the two go hand in hand quite effortlessly."

Starting a conversation is important. And these 19 artists are expressing their feelings in the loudest way possible, and that’s through art! You know when a glass hits the floor and breaks? The very first moment you hear that breaking sound, and it’s just the most painful thing to hear. Something so fragile just shattering into tiny little pieces and the only way to fight it is to mimic its’ sound and scream just as loud until that pain in your voice sculpts those pieces into something else. That’s how great art is created!
Everybody has a story to share, and they share it not just because it’s healthy to vent but also because this world has so many ways of connecting so many different people. Humanity isn’t just about someone you’re looking at having the same physical features or functions; it’s also about the similarities you share through emotional experience; and these artists are coming together in one platform for that exact reason, since they all have a different story to share but with almost the same elements that connect and bring them to the same space.

Discover the exhibition right here