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Marine mysteries

July 4 - July 10, 2024
Gulf Weekly Marine mysteries
Gulf Weekly Marine mysteries
Gulf Weekly Marine mysteries
Gulf Weekly Marine mysteries

BAHRAINI artist Zainab Almahdi’s illustrated story has been published in Sharjah Art Foundation’s collaborative art project Corniche’s first GCC edition, and offers readers a lesson in the importance of treating nature correctly.

The six-page picturesque tale What belongs to the sea was featured in the comic anthology’s fifth edition, which was made open to artists across the Gulf region, marking the programme’s expansion. Up until then, it was open to artists in the UAE.

The Corniche programme, provided by Sharjah Art Foundation in the Emirates, is a platform for illustrators and comic artists to share their artwork through the compilation book’s yearly edition. The sixth edition is set to launch in November this year, participants are yet to be announced.

“The comic is based on a real story of me going to the sea with my nieces and picking up a scary sea sponge which turned the water in the glass I put it in nearly black,” the 26-year-old artist told GulfWeekly.

“I applied for Al Riwaq Art Space’s art residency at Youth City last year and that’s where I created the comic. We were given a studio space and professionally instructed by Bahraini artists Ali Hussain Merza and Mariam Alnoaimi and Canadian artist William Wells.

Youth City is the Youth Affairs Ministry’s youth empowerment initiative that spans entrepreneurship, media, arts and culture, technology, and sports.

“I initially struggled with deciding on an ending for the comic, but Bahraini director and writer Taqwa Ali Naser helped me come up with a fitting conclusion. I decided to go for a mysterious end that would leave room for readers’ imagination, which I believe can be scarier than anything you could actually show,” she revealed.

The story starts with a young Bahraini woman watching her nieces and nephews on the beach, playing and collecting shells. As it gets dark, the woman announces that it’s time to go. The children, upset about having to leave, get warned by their aunt that Swaichen, a menacing sea creature, will devour them if they don’t hurry.

On the way out of the beach, a dark blue sea sponge captures the attention of the lady, she picks it up and takes it home with her. Later at night, while she is grabbing water to drink from the kitchen before bed, the lady gets swallowed by overflown black water from the glass she put the sea sponge in. She gets captured by Swaichen, who angrily confronts her for stealing the ‘sea’s bounties’.

The comic, published in November last year, openly ends with Swaichen saying, “what belongs to the sea, returns to the sea.” Swaichen, a mythological character in Gulf folklore, is typically brought up by Arab parents and adults to discourage children from doing something that could threaten their safety.

“All my stories tackle real issues relevant to Bahrain, one being the environment. The sea is a giver, but also is a taker, and we keep taking and not returning. I believe that if the sea was a person, it would be angry at us,” she noted.

Not one to rest on her past laurels, Zainab is already working on multiple projects. She is set to release a comic dedicated to Youth City next month, and is in the process of publishing her new comic soon.

Earlier this year, Zainab’s mural titled Lost, and Maybe Found was displayed at Al Riwaq Art Space’s The Nest art festival, and another one Where were you? And where will you go? at Muharraq Nights cultural event, both inspired by marine themes – something she feels strongly about. Culture is another topic that makes its way into her creations. In 2021, Zainab’s comic titled Um Hmaar Returns! featured several mythological creatures associated with the Gulf.

“Culture generally plays part in a lot of media and entertainment, for example, a lot of manga comics include Japanese mythical creatures. I believe that we have rich culture and mythology, as well as urban legends, and I would like to explore that even more in the future,” she explained.

The illustrator and comic artist from Muharraq likes to deliver stories she deems authentic to her home country and culture. Her comics are mainly written in Bahraini Arabic dialect.

The fifth edition of the comic anthology featuring What belongs to the sea is available to order through the Sharjah Art Foundation email: publications@sharjahart.org.

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