A World of Water

We chatted to Mariam Alnoaimi, winner of the prestigious Al Dana Prize at the 47th Bahrain Annual Fine Arts (BAFA) Exhibition, about the importance of the environment in her works.

Did you always know you wanted to be an artist and can you recall your earliest inspiration?

It was not in my mind that I wanted to be an ‘artist’ when I was a kid. However, I have always been interested in art, it was something I enjoyed and was curious to learn more about. My earliest inspiration was the late Nasser Al Yousif’s work and sincere passion. It was inspiring to see him work on his prints and linocuts. I was young then, but it is one of those moments I remember very well. By the time I was doing my undergrad, I had the opportunity to attend art workshops by international artists in the region at Al Riwaq Art Space and Albareh gallery, for example Wael Shawki, Nadim Kufi, Rana AlNemr, Camille Zakariya and some other artists and curators. In many of those workshops, we had the opportunity to explore art through discussions, readings, and reflections.

Are there any other artists in your family and has your family been supportive?

Not from my direct family but my family has been very supportive.

What or who inspires your work now?

My surroundings and our relationship to our environments. I have always been fascinated by the relationship between people and the surrounding environment /space, and how each is shaping the other and forming the cultures around it. Fascinated by the relationship between the human being and the place, how each affects the other and influences culture, identity, and environment.

When did you first exhibit publicly and how did that feel?

In 2013 or 2014. It felt great to exhibit publicly and, more importantly, see how people engage with my work. For me the artwork, especially installations and conceptual art, is not complete when the artist is done with it. The most important part is the interaction and the engagement with the work itself. I have been producing art professionally since 2014.

You seem comfortable working across various mediums, which is your favourite?

I do enjoy working with various mediums as it gives me flexibility and freedom in exploring and developing the project. I really enjoy working on site-specific and research-based projects. Throughout the research or the site visits I get inspired to use different mediums, like maps, cartography, sound, images, or materials which can then be translated and developed into an artwork such as an installation or any form of conceptual work. I have been working with maps in different ways and I find it fascinating as a way of storytelling, in which the cartographer is the storyteller.

Your studies, both overseas and here at the University of Bahrain, have been in interiors. Is this something you would consider taking further in the future or is it art all the way now?

I did my bachelor’s in interior design at the University of Bahrain and my master’s in urban design at the University of Colorado, Denver. Spatial design generally is something I am passionate about and art gives a platform to explore the topic with all its layers, through research and different mediums.

You showed at the world-famous Saatchi Gallery in London back in 2018. Your piece ‘Salt Enriches’ featured a display of black garments stained with salt from evaporated seawater, representative of a potentially life-altering decrease in the availability of fresh water to remove the salt stains. What made you decide on this subject and has it excited discussion?

For me art is a platform to contemplate and to have conversations within oneself as well as with others. The environment and water have always been part of our culture and our collective memory and the culture of many other societies that are usually formed around water sources. Urban development and growth come with challenges, and the environmental impact is one of those challenges. It is a platform to re-look at our surroundings and have those discussions and conversations around the opportunities and challenges we, and many other cities, are facing due to urbanisation.

You were also part of the Venice Biennale in 2019. How were exhibitors chosen and did these pieces also follow an environmental theme? What was this experience like?

I was part of the Venice Biennale in which my work The Spectacle [a site-specific piece focusing on Bahrain as a 33-island archipelago and the massive changes since the coming of the oil industry] which I participated with for the BAFA 2019, was chosen by the curator Amal Khalaf who beautifully curated the show. The title of the exhibition was The Wait, where all the works by different artists were connected to tell a story highlighting our relationship to the sea from different perspectives.

Your Al Dana award-winning entry at the 47th Bahrain Annual Fine Arts Exhibition again draws on the changing environment and access to natural resources. Please tell us about the creative process on these works, how long did they take and, what was the message you set out to convey?

It has been a topic I have always been interested in in the past few years and some images used in the video were taken a couple of years back. So, when I decided to put the work together, I went back to my archive. Water has always been part of the urban fabric and the formation of villages around it all around the world. It is part of Bahrain’s natural history, ecology and culture. Shifting Waters – looking at water as a medium of politics and poetics through which stories are told, the work aims to unravel narratives that often have multiple layers of geography, ecology, and collective memories.

The work is a contemplation on how the geographical body of water has been constantly relocating, which has resulted in transforming the identities of people that built up around it. Since the oil discovery, there have been massive urban and social changes; the two liquids, oil and water, act as counterplays that shape our past and present realities. The project explores the poetic and tragic narratives that are unfolded in the presence and absence of water, which provides a framework to think through the geography of water, social experiences, climate change and urbanism.

Do you view yourself as an artist-activist? And are you involved with other environmental projects?

I have always been interested in the environment. Some of my art projects are ongoing works around the environment.

What does winning the Al Dana Award mean to you, and how will it affect your future?

I am grateful and thankful for the award and it is a motivation to work on coming projects.

What do you like to do when you’re not engaged in art production?

I love taking walks, strolling around and discovering new areas and places. Sometimes ‘the ordinary things are the most extraordinary’ and I find this in my walks. ✤