Visual Director Green Bar, Bahrain
Freelance illustrator and graphic designer
“I was always the artist in my family. If you ask my parents, they will tell you that my love for art was evident from a young age. I have memories of sleeping on the floor next to my parents’ bed with a sketchbook by my side. As soon as I opened my eyes in the morning, I would begin sketching whilst the rest of the house slept. I think any opportunity I had, I would paint, sketch…create.
By the time I was ready for university, I was urged to follow traditional career path in science or business, but I put my foot down and said I wanted to go to art school. I think I’ve always been comfortable with following my passion. I have a certain amount of determination within me.
Perhaps I take after my mother as she was someone who didn’t necessarily conform. She knew she wanted to go abroad to study after being awarded a scholarship in London. For a conservative Bahraini family in the 1980s, this wasn’t a conventional path. It’s amazing that my grandfather did eventually agree to letting her live and study abroad. It was also unconventional that she married my non-Bahraini, English father. My mother was always clear about walking her own path.
My mother wasn’t then surprised by my decision to pursue art at the Glasgow School of Art, but my father was. In the end, I’m sure he realised that this was the right career choice for me. My siblings followed more traditional paths (my two brothers have each studied Maths at Oxford and Computer Science at the Imperial College of London and my sister is a student at the London School of Economics), so I think our father is proud of us all.
Coming from a mixed heritage was unusual when I was growing up in Bahrain, particularly having a non-Arab father. My siblings and I struggled to speak Arabic (although we understood it perfectly), and we did feel a little bit different to our Bahraini family and friends. As children, we only travelled to the UK for holidays, so I didn’t get to see the British side of the family very often. I only got a feel for what it’s really like to be British when I moved to the UK for my studies. For a long time, I wanted to live in the UK as I felt my dual identity was accepted there. I think over time I have come to appreciate both sides of my identity and have become more comfortable in my skin. For now, I feel rooted in Bahrain and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
After studying visual art in the UK, I returned to Bahrain to work in 2008. I began establishing myself as a freelance graphic designer here, eventually undertaking a Master of Arts in illustration. My final project was an art installation at Malja art space. After receiving a great response to that work, I went on to exhibit another piece at the Nest festival in Adliya (as part of the now closed Al Riwaq gallery). At Malja art space, I also co-curated an exhibition with Fatima Al Saad. I think creative hubs like this are important for artists to meet, talk and learn about each other’s creative endeavours and I’m hopeful that more of them will open and that those that we still have will remain.
By 2010, I decided to try another path. I completed a postgraduate certificate in teaching and went on to work as an art teacher for several years at the Sheikha Hessa Girls School, going on to become the Head of Department for Art. I think teaching gave me a chance to look at the world from a different perspective. To me, art is about exploring, and I loved that my students would constantly take me with them on their creative and artistic journeys.
Whilst I have a great respect for the teaching profession, graphic design and illustration is my first love and a couple of years ago, I returned to it. As well as creating my own solo illustrations, I did some freelance work for Green Bar, a Bahrain-based botanical skin care brand. Recently, I decided to take a break from teaching and have transitioned into a role as the full-time visual director at Green Bar, which means I take care of all visual aspects of our branding, including how our product is labelled and branded in our store and on social media. It’s wonderful to work there as I love everything the brand stands for.
A couple of years ago, I began selling merchandise with my original illustrations at Artist Alley, Comic Con and received great reviews. This year, I illustrated nostalgic images of snacks and foods that we grew up with in the Gulf; the artwork was whimsical and fun, appealing to people from my generation. I also do illustrations on commission (including artwork for Yalla Habibi in Bahrain and illustrations for a poet in Glasgow). The varied nature of the work means it is fresh and fun. Over the years I’ve realised that my professional goal is not to have my work displayed in galleries. I’m an illustrator at the end of the day. I love the idea that what I create ends up in a book or magazine or on a cushion or t-shirt.
My advice for up and coming graphic artists and illustrators is to network and get to know the other creative people around you. Sometimes you must be proactive and approach others to get your work noticed. I’m excited to see more and more Bahraini women in the creative industry. It’s wonderful that at Comic con, most of the illustrators in Artist Alley were women. Impressively, many of them have turned a simple, eye-catching doodle on a scrap of paper into a legitimate business venture in terms of merchandising.
Women in Bahrain are definitely making their mark in the graphic design and illustration industry, and I’m proud to be counted amongst them.”