Yalla Habibi—Beautiful Bahraini Textiles: Bahrain Story #25

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#100 Bahrain Stories is the beautiful brainchild of Tanzeel Jabbar-Khadir. As an Australian writer with Indian and Pakistani heritage, Tanzeel relocated to the small Gulf island of Bahrain several years ago and embarked upon a personal project to interview 100 people from all walks of life in her new tiny island home. TCK TOWN is proud and excited to be able to share the stories from some of the 100 inspiring people that were interviewed. The stories have even been published as a book. Take a look at the end of this article to find out where you can purchase it. We hope you enjoy this series as much as we do!

“For the first fifteen years of my life I lived in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, and I have lovely memories of my life there. My German-born father has always had an eye for art and beauty, so our weekends were spent exploring galleries and antique shops, and travelling to small villages to buy exquisitely woven Berber carpets. My French-born mother always says that it’s my father who educated her taste.

After North Africa my family returned to Europe and, as a young woman in the mid 90s, I wanted to explore. I think exploring and travelling is in my blood. You get addicted to the thrill of change. When you move to a new place, your senses are awakened.

I went to Australia, and there I worked as a promoter and a stylist for up-and-coming European designers. It was a time of growth for the fashion industry there, and it was inspiring to promote labels and watch them flourish. After three years, I returned to Paris and worked on a film set as a designer of period costumes. That led to other jobs including one where I worked as an assistant director in a film recreating the Olympic Games in ancient Greece. It was around this time that I met my husband, an Australian who had lived in Paris for 16 years. It always amazes me that I met him in Paris and not Australia!

In 2009, we were living in Australia with our young daughter when my husband told me he was looking at a job opportunity in Bahrain. I was really excited about the thought of living in the Middle East. Having grown up around Islam and Islamic culture, I felt familiar with it. In some ways, it still feels more familiar to me than Europe.

In Bahrain, I started exploring galleries and learning about local artists. I became friends with artist Mohamed Sharkawy, and I saw a naïve quality in his art that I really liked. I could see that his work would transpose beautifully as embroidery on cushions, and so in 2014, Yalla Habibi was born. I chose the name as I wanted something that sounded sweet with a nice melody and meaning. (It means, ‘Let’s go, my love’.) People have enjoyed the functionality of the cushions and the fact that they can have a beautiful work of art in their home without it being on the wall. Since my launch, I have collaborated with other artists and creative people and have recently released a second collection. I hope that by giving local artists a platform, their work will be appreciated by a wider audience.

I use material and fabrics that are typically Bahraini and travel to villages to meet and work with weavers and embroiderers. Meeting these talented people and learning about their lives has given me a unique anthropological insight. When you research textile traditions in the Gulf like I have, you find that historically, Bahrain was appreciated for its weaving industry. I look at Bahraini culture with so much appreciation. There’s a sense of adventure in the collaborative work that I do, and I love that.”

Interviewee: Nathaly Jung from France, Germany, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Australia. Living in Bahrain.