In Oasis Fine Art & Craft in downtown Harrisonburg, a hidden gem can be found, quite literally, in a hole in the wall. Bahir Al Badry, one of Oasis’ artists, sits in his upstairs workshop and overlooks the shop through a window as he works on new projects. Badry meets the people of the Friendly City by striking up conversations with anyone who takes an interest in his work.
Badry describes himself as an abstract artist who creates conceptual art that focuses on the ideas and emotions of human beings.
“I adopt the issues of the contemporary man, his concerns, happiness, problems and his aspirations,” Badry said.
About a year ago, Spencer Law, a senior media arts and design major, and a friend wandered into the shop and spotted Badry through his workshop window.
“We ended up talking to him for a couple hours, showing us each of his works and what they meant,” Law said. “He was one of the kindest people and was vulnerable about his life story and his experiences. He was very passionate about sharing his art and his story.”
Barbara Camph, a fellow artist at Oasis, also shares a strong friendship with Badry after meeting him almost four years ago when he was browsing the shop.
“I like him so much,” Camph said. “I’ve met his kids.”
It wasn’t long after Badry and Camph began talking about various pieces in the shop that a friendship followed.
“I have been so happy to see that people don’t think [his art work] is strange,” Camph said. “It’s new and different, and they like talking to him to understand the symbolism.”
Along with being an artist, Badry is also invested in climate change and was the Iraq representative for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He attended four different committees around the world. When he returned from the conventions, Badry presented what he’d learned to his country and even wrote a book in Arabic about what they needed to do in order to reduce their carbon footprint as a country.
This experience inspired Badry to create five paintings about climate change. One of them is on a medium-sized, rectangular canvas with eye-catching shades of red, grey and black.
“Here, it’s CO2,” Badry said as he pointed to two gray circles on the canvas. “The sun is angry at mankind.”
He goes on to say that the group of people in the lower right corner of the canvas are from the climate change convention he attended.
“The convention is sick; it wants to die,” Badry said. “Why? Because many countries don’t care about the conventions, they don’t implement what the conventions say to do.”
Badry graduated from the University of Rijeka in Croatia as a marine engineer. From there, he went on to work on ships at sea all around the world for 20 years. This is where inspiration struck, and he began his career as an artist.
“The life is always there,” Badry said. “It changes from place to place, from culture to culture.”
When he had free time on the ship, Badry said he’d create black and white sketches about his time at sea, love and his conscience, most of which he’s displayed in his workshop. He said he still has all of his sketches from the ships and hopes to someday create an exhibit with them.
Badry’s workshop walls are also covered in various sizes of his framed canvases. It’s easy to see Badry’s abstract style of creating people out of oblong shapes, vibrant colors and various doodles — reminiscent of hieroglyphics — to create detail. Bigger canvases are hung on the wall, while smaller ones are stood up on shelves. The longer one looks around the workshop, the more canvases seem to appear.
Badry sits at his table right in the window of his workshop so he can easily see and converse with visitors as he works on new projects, one of which is a huge, rectangular canvas that’s mostly covered in pencil sketches and only half painted with a bright yellow sun, some music notes and two people kissing.
This painting is different from the others, as it seems to start at the bottom and draws the eye upward to tell its story.
“It’s talking about my wishes and my hope about the next day that there will be no more pandemics, no more masks, the people are happy,” Badry said. “I showed the people are dancing. The musician here is playing music, and the kids and also the parents are celebrating that new times are coming for us.”
The painting also depicts two lovers without masks embracing each other, with the sun rising in the background symbolizing happiness.
One aspect that Badry said he loves about having his workshop in Oasis is that he’s able to show people what he does and explain the symbolism of all of his pieces.
“What made me happy was that the people here, they started to like and to love and to come ask about my style,” Badry said. “My style is unique. We are talking about human beings. You have to stop and look at what is on the paintings and ask about the title and also discuss with the artist.”
The workshop has also proven beneficial to Oasis visitors. Camph remarked on how having an in-house workshop has been a positive experience to those who are interested in Badry and his work.
“Having his studio here makes all the difference,” Camph said. “The experience of art is so much richer if you meet the artist.”
Meeting the artist and speaking to him about his work leads to a deeper understanding and appreciativeness of the art.
Badry expressed how important it is for him to communicate with people who express an interest in his art because it creates an environment of bonding and understanding between the artist and the community. For Badry, it’s meaningful to him that the observer learns about the symbolism behind a piece and the artist learns from the observers about what things they noticed and what the piece means to them.
“I like the people and community here,” Badry said. “I want to give them the experience to make them happy; that is very important to me. For me, when I make you happy and smile, that is my humility.”
For this reason, Badry tries to participate in different events all around the city. Last year, he was asked to show his work at Hotel Madison for two months, and during the pandemic, he created a poster to sell to raise money for the doctors working on the front lines of COVID-19.
It’s important to Badry that he can be a learning tool for anyone who wants to learn about art, and he said he’s willing to start a workshop for JMU students. Overall, the community has been overwhelmingly accepting of Badry’s work.
“Harrisonburg has embraced him,” Camph said. “It’s really great.”
Badry feels that the words of another Iraqi artist, Ala Bashir, explain how Badry feels about his art the best:
“My artworks reflect my personal concept of the purpose of art: that art is not for entertainment; that art instead ought to provoke the mind, stir thought, on the meaning and purpose of our human existence; that art, like science, can and does play an important role in transforming humanity for the better.”
It’s clear that Badry’s style does exactly this through his use of detailed symbolism and intriguing motivations that promote a community of curiosity and communication.
“We have to send a message to the community that art is an important thing for people through this time to make them happy,” Badry said. “When they are looking for the beauty, they come here to visit the exhibit.”
Contact Avery Goodstine at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.