The storied history of Bahrain’s capital is the focus of a new book of photographs and complementary art exhibition unveiled last week.
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The book is the second in the series, featuring rare photos of Manama’s history from as early as the 1930s. The first book titled Manama Through The Lens was launched in 2015 and highlighted the modern landscape of the kingdom’s capital.
“We were hoping to launch this book earlier but due to Covid-19 restrictions, we decided to pair it with the country’s 49th National Day,” architect and artist Mahdi Al Jallawi told GulfWeekly.
“We also decided to pair it with a unique vintage-style art exhibition. I picked photos of structures that have since been demolished or renovated and painted them using coffee and tea to highlight the nostalgic value these have held for Bahrain’s citizens.”
These have been created with coffee and tea, both to create a unique vintage feel and to represent through the medium, the Arab world and Bahrain’s hot beverages of choice.
“After picking a photo, I trace the structure of the building with tea,” the 36-year-old artist said, explaining his process.
“This is after preparing the canvas, of course, which I tint into a sepia colour using tea as well. Later I add the details and definitive shapes with coffee, because it is a much darker shade.
“And after letting it dry, we coat the canvas with a fixative to prevent the deterioration of organic compounds like coffee.”
Mahdi has chosen places that he thought are integral to the fabric of Bahrain.
“We had grown up hearing our fathers and grandfathers talk about places like the Manama Police Court, local coffee houses and the command centre in Bahrain during the Second World War and I wanted to find a way to immortalise them.”
The paintings are reminiscent of aged photos one might see in a museum, and the technical skill reflect Mahdi’s training as an architect, with particular attention paid to designs.
For Mahdi, who has been working with noted painter Abbas Almosawi on a number of projects, including the ‘artipelago’ of paintings in honour of National Day, this project was the perfect culmination of his science and art backgrounds.
“Art is not just a calling or career, it’s a way of life and looking at things,” Mahdi said.
“It’s about the pursuit of beauty, and the work that one puts in to share that beauty with the rest of the world.
“Normally, when we do such sketches of buildings, they are glanced at and then thrown into a pile of paper. By creating paintings, the architect and artist in me wanted to highlight their beauty and significance, and find a way for my chosen lane as an artist to intersect with people’s memory lanes.”
The exhibition, which runs until Saturday, is open to all, and as one walked around during the launch, snippets of nostalgia could be overheard as dignitaries reminisced about times spent growing up and working at these landmarks.
For more information about Mahdi’s art, follow @mahdialjallawi on Instagram.
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