Khaleeji Art Museum

Ishaq Madan on the Worlds Photography Takes You To

'Photography has helped sustain my curiosity,' says the young Bahraini artist.

By Alanood Al Wahaibi

Bloom by Bahraini artist Ishaq Madan is currently showing on Museum in the Sky Volume II. Image courtesy of Ishaq Madan.

The art of storytelling through visual media has the power to transmit culture,  evoke emotions and stimulate questions. For one talented Gulf  photographer, Ishaq Madan, photography is more than just a hobby; it is a way to stay rooted in the present while exploring the beauty and diversity of his homeland, Bahrain, and sharing it with the world. Madan’s journey into photography began at a young age, when he was given a film camera as a child to capture memories during his family trips. Little did he know at the time that this early introduction to photography would turn into a lifelong passion that would result in his recognition regionally and internationally.

Madan perceives himself as an artist of curiosity, frequently driven by a desire to seek answers to the fundamental questions that  define our existence. As his perceptions of the world constantly shift and evolve, his creativity is influenced, which drives him to explore new territories of thought and expression.

We had the privilege to connect with  Madan, whose works are exhibited in Volume II of Museum in the Sky. Museum in the Sky, which is now available to watch through Emirates’ in-flight entertainment Ice, is part of the Khaleeji Art Museum’s continuous efforts to showcase the art of the region in innovative ways, and build strong cultural bridges through art. In its latest volume, five Gulf artists– Jalal Luqman, Sumayyah Alsuwaidi, Maitha Hamdan, Mohammed Al Attar and Ishaq Madan– showcase three of their most memorable works to millions of passengers around the world through their own galleries in the sky. In our discussion with Madan, we delved into the inspiration behind capturing a moment or scene, discussed his approach to photography and  the works he showcases through the Museum in the Sky. This interview was edited for the purposes of clarity.

What is the drive behind becoming a photographer artist?

IM: The beauty of photography is that it grounds you to the present, awakening a third eye to fully immerse yourself in your environment while observing the fleeting moments of life. There is a quote I came across recently from a film called Midnight in Paris, which perfectly encapsulates my drive to explore art through the medium of photography: ‘The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.’ With that being said, photography has helped sustain my curiosity figuratively and physically, allowing me to venture to unknown places I would have never been able to know without the medium. 

How do you approach framing and composition in your photography work? What do you tend to look for in a great shot?

IM: When I have a camera on hand I tend to go into a cinematic frame of mind as I am heavily influenced by the films and TV shows I consume. I would consider myself as a cinephile, but I do take a lot of inspiration from multiple industry leaders such as Sam Esmail and Roger Deakins. After all, we are an extension of the things that move us. Also, photographers such as Daido Moriyama, Ernst Haas and Alex Webb have played a role in structuring my visual language. More often than not, I look for isolation in my shots and attempt to pair it with either a sub-frame or geometric shapes to create a dynamic feel. Although, most importantly, the selection of a subject always plays a significant role in my visual stories. 

Bahraini artist Ishaq Madan. Image by Jacqueline V. Belizario for the Khaleeji Art Museum.

Could you tell me about the works you are sharing through the Museum in the Sky and the inspiration behind each?

IM: My work, Shabab Al Mustaqbel (2021), is a tribute to the future youth of Bahrain. It symbolises their drive to achieve their dreams as I used skateboarding as a visual metaphor to represent the rebellious and courageous nature often attributed to [the youth] to provide subtle social commentary. The work was exhibited by MoMA New York in RTA Subway Stations.

Al-fijri folklore songs have been an integral component of Bahraini culture due to their historic relationship with Bahrain’s pearl diving trade and  community; they reflect the blood, sweat and  tears of a community filled with passion through literary melodies born from an individual’s experiences in the journey of a life dedicated to pearl diving, often transforming in a collective hypnotic rhythm of motion and sound. My work, Rhythm of al-fijiri (2020), is a visual composite that portrays the flow and movement during a composition of a song under the al-fijiri genre of ‘bahri,’ a genre that utilises a mixture of mirwas, jahlah, tabl, claps and, most importantly, the underlying foundation of the composition, the nehaam. Capturing these moments through the photographic technique of long exposure created a painting-like scene that relays the serene relationship between the collective movement and  emotional theme of a ‘bahri’ song, a theme of longing and loneliness as pearl divers spent their days out at sea in search of pearls. The work is currently exhibited at Bahrain International Airport, Muharraq.

As spring makes its way and brings its blessings across the island of Bahrain, I could not help but think of the cycle of revival and letting go. Bloom (2020) is thus a work inspired by personal life experiences in conjunction with the change in seasons that taught me, through the cycle of withering flowers, how it’s important to nurture and grow as a person, and the significance of shedding old notions or beliefs that longer serve the greater good. The work was exhibited at Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 

More broadly speaking, Bahraini culture and traditions are incorporated in a number of your works, whether indirectly or directly. Why is it important for you to showcase them?

IM: I find it important as it sets an identity to the place and time we live in, which is important on many levels as it preserves the cultural heritage in a new light and creates a reference point for future generations to learn from them or be inspired by them. As technology advances, we are stripped from the beauty of history and significance of certain cultural elements. However, it is the duty of each generation to maintain and share them so they never fade from memory. 

Rhythm of Al Fijiri by Ishaq Madan is currently on view on Museum in the Sky Volume II. Image courtesy of Ishaq Madan.

What are your future goals as a photography artist?

IM: I would like to perhaps take up a degree that will complement my practice if financial means permit. It would certainly help me in taking the next step of growing as an artist. I would also like to establish my own studio with a photobook cafe; that would certainly be fun. All in all, I also hope to continue to fulfill my curious, creative soul.

You can find out more about Museum in the Sky Volume II and Madan here.

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