An artistic forum that brings together royal houses globally, Royal Bridges serves as an umbrella for artists with noble backgrounds to prompt artistic dialogue and movement
By Anaam Ikram
Art in Bahrain has always played a significant role in forming the island’s cultural and historical identity – and especially that in the life of H.E. Shaikh Rashid Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa. Renowned for his mastery and keenness in contemporary arts, H.E. Rashid Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa understood the need for The Kingdom to establish an artistic foundation from which the newer generations can not only be inspired by but can also build upon. Co-finding the Bahrain Arts Society in 1982 – for which he now serves as Honorary President – and taking it a step further by setting up artBahrain in 2010, H.E. Shaikh Rashid Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa’s progressive attitude towards the art in The Kingdom and finding means to excel in various art criteria locally, regionally, and internationally set the premise for the birth of Royal Bridges. Encompassing a wide scope of artistic movements, the aptly named society is a platform for artists that not only share royalty as a common background, but are also the frontrunners of contemporary art, design, fashion, and musical performances. Royal Bridges aims to alter the misconception that royalty with an interest in art may not necessarily possess the talent themselves. Founding Director of Royal Bridges and friend of H.E. Shaikh Rashid Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Baron Henri Estramant spoke to Perle Magazine about the multifaceted nature of the organisation that aims to re-establish the importance of art stemming from a royal lineage.
Though, not from an artistic background himself, Baron Henri Estramant’s own portfolio is nothing short of impressive. Working as an Urbane Art, Business, and Public Relations/Affairs advisor based out of Brussels, Baron Henri’s contributions to the world of diplomacy and international affairs has resulted in not only forming strong bonds with heads of states, ministers, ambassadors and a plethora of foundations, but also literature published in esteemed publications such as The Economist, Society, Diplomacia, Siglo XXI, and more. His list of achievements also includes the Co-Editor of Diplomat Magazine for the Benelux countries and the European Union. Thus, making him the ideal partner for the International Humanitarian City headed by HRH Princess Haya bint El Hussein and the Mohammed bin Rashid Global Initiatives to work with in order to reach out to the royal and princely houses to abridge the gap all the while expanding upon the perspective of contemporary art and preserving some of these forms of art that have in the past been over looked due to their connection with royalty. “He had a vision to actually bring artists with this background together to find what the common grounds are besides the lineages and history behind them, as persons”, Henri says and adds that this also encourages the artists to see if they had any artistic similarities in terms of their work, experiences, and how they perceive themselves as artists.
Along with building bridges among different individuals, who are artists, and focusing on their individualistic and signature styles depicting contemporary art, Royal Bridges also has a keen interest in building bonds with those who are protectors of the art with royal families. This allows them to take a look at how Royal Bridges and these individuals can come together to take care of world heritage that have a UNESCO status, which might be in danger, linked to the royal houses. Henri explains that through this initiative they also want to step away from the stereotype that even though they are working with currently those are part of the royalty, but there also those who may come from a royal lineage but are no longer as privileged as their families had been in the past. “One of the question we are often asked is ‘are they really artists?’, and why do we support them, and that is only because of their names and given titles”, Henri says, and explains that leads to a lot of people questioning the authenticity of these artists, and adds that through their organisation they aim to not only support the talent, but protect their artistic heritage, as well as present a means of education about the background of some of the post-royal families who were disposed and had to go into exile, yet, still held on their heritage and express through means of art.
Hosting their first event in November 2016 at the Ritz Carlton, DIFC, in Dubai; the show titled “Convergence”, was an exhibition that brought together all the talent of Royal Bridges under one roof. The first of its kind, Convergence was a spectacular display of paintings, sculptures, and jewellery designs, musical performances from the royal and princely artists paying homage to contemporary art. The artists included members from the royal family of Bhutan, Cambodia, and Norway, as well as former princely houses from Germany, a Brazilian princess, and even Africa. The successful show showcased not only the talent of these artists, but provided onlookers an insight into their multi-dimensional and rich cultures, sparking a dialogue through the art movements of their country of origin. Convergence also allowed the artists in a different light for the first time, independent of their background and status, and as true artists, revealing that passion and hard work combine to create a truly remarkable product. Working closely with renowned charity organisations, such as Christie’s Auction House, International Humanitarian City, Mohammed Bin Rashid Global Initiatives, Royal Bridges also raised a substantial amount of money for the UN World Food Program – the largest charity in the world.
The second event by Royal Bridges took place in May at the befitting location of Gallery21, in the heart of Adliya in Bahrain. Working with luxury French perfume and cosmetics brand, Guerlain, and inviting Princess Esther Kamatari of Burundi, who is not only the brand ambassador of the brand but also serves as the head of the delegation for the Royal Dummers of Burundi, and welcomed media and esteemed guests for the pre-launch of Oud Essential. With a truly captivating story of her own and gracing the cover of Black Beauty magazine, Princess Esther Kamatari represents the endangered performance art form that was once an essential part of the Kingdom, and a tradition that lasted 500 years as the drummers performed to greet the royals and to mark the different rituals of court at the time. Their significance diminished as the kingdom was turned into a presidency, and they no longer served a purpose. Though the tradition persists, the Drummers of Burundi receive little to no attention, and thus Royal Bridges stepped in to protect the heritage that is in extremis. The lavish event that brought to the guests an exclusive look at the latest collection by Guerlain, also held Princess Esther Kamatari at its centre and brought new life and attention to her story and her initiative to help the Drummers of Burundi, and cementing her status as a true believer of beauty and art in every form.
“What is truly unique about Royal Bridges is the fact that we are a very global movement and it really brings together vibrant and creative people with so many different backgrounds”, Henri says, and elaborates further that though all the movements are very similar in the sense that each participant is very special, their differences lie within the fact that each of them have a unique and intriguing story of their own. Also working with the likes of Russian Prince Rostislav Rostislavovich, Royal Cambodian Ballet, Princess Reem Al Faisal Al Saud, and many more, Royal Bridges currently has 15 members on board, and Henri says they are still looking for new members, but it is not an easy task. He explains that certain times he has been approached by those interested and other times has also reached out to those he feels fit in with their ethos. Housing a wide range of talent from jewellery designers, to musicians, painters, sculptors, visual artists, performance artists, Henri adds, “The idea is that less is more, we have less people, but it is important to bring forward to people’s attention what is being threatened as heritage worldwide.”
Igniting thought and dialogue that provides a different perspective on contemporary arts from around the world, and especially that which is linked to a royal lineage, and is potentially at the verge of disappearing, Royal Bridges proves to be a platform that brings together a different selection of artists who bravely put forth their heritage and cultures for the world to see. From across Europe, the Gulf, and Africa, Royal Bridges embraces the broad scope of contemporary art in the hopes to learn it, preserve it, and spread it.
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