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Through the Lens of Bahraini Art: Depictions of Poverty in Bahrain

The Souq, by Abbas Almosawi

Despite being recognized by the World Bank as a high-income country, Bahrain, a small island nested deep in the Persian Gulf in the Middle East, struggles with elaborate pictures of poverty. Young boys sell water and seasonal flowers to passing cars in traffic lights; men with bachelor’s degrees spread out across traditional markets and bazaars trying to sell vegetables and fruits in order to maintain their livelihoods; black-clad women, covered up and disguised as anonymous people to avoid embarrassment and humiliation, sit on stranded pieces of cardboard begging bypassers for spare change and money.

Abbas Almosawi, a 69-year-old Bahraini painter depicts these images of poverty cleverly. His paintings mainly focus on the old memory of an island that led a simple and content life, before the discovery of oil; with salesmen flooding vibrant markets, skilled pearl divers parting the sea in two for precious water-produced gemstones, and strong pale blue waters sprawling out in every nook and cranny of the small island. By highlighting these memories, it is obvious that not much has changed in the rich, oil-producing country. Young and old men queue up alike in make-shift markets that strangle narrow streets in villages in hopeless efforts to sell and provide for themselves and their families. Abbas’ paintings of beautiful blue waters are replaced by a picture of a dying sea; choked by chemicals and sand from varying land reclamation projects. Water is moved and pushed as businesses please: in front of malls, surrounding man-made islands, and bordered in artificial lakes in front of shopping complexes.

The lively colors in Almosawi's paintings reflect hope for a better life and gratitude for a humble and healthy life. In his painting, The Souq, Abbas masterfully plays with shadows by bluing the picture's arms: night blue covers the right and left-hand side of the painting, it lightens. We reach the center of the painting and fade into a warm and glorious gold-like yellow that represents the sun's glowing shine onto the street. Many of Almosawi's figures in The Souq are found in the middle, stepping forward to fill the blued alleys, where the sun hasn't reached its hands yet, signaling new dawn of hope and the pain of being burned by the sun. Like the figures in Almosawi's painting, the Bahraini people, many of which live in varying degrees of poverty, come out of their humble homes every day, hopeful, despite the cruel reality of their lives.

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