Making a living off of art is still a relatively new idea to grasp, let alone a form of art that was once perceived as vandalism. Street art is still quite a new concept in Bahrain, but artists like Mahmood AlShargawi, better known as Huvil, are trying to change that over time. A self-taught street artist, Mahmood is on a mission to change the perception around street art. Here’s what Mahmood has to share about his journey so far and his aspirations for the street art scene in Bahrain.
From Paper to Walls
I’ve been in love with art since I was a kid, I first started sketching back in 1994.
But it was in 2007 that I had the jump to the next level and moved into graffiti and street art. Sketching on paper didn’t seem quite enough and I eventually ran out of space on paper and that’s when I started sketching on the walls of my room. My friend then introduced me to the concept of graffiti, watched a couple of videos and the very next day we went out and started painting on walls with spray paint. My first work wasn’t really that great, but that’s how I started and skipped the paper and canvases and moved to walls.
When I first started, it was with the intention of sending out positive messages to the community. People live very stressful lives, so I try to leave positive messages on walls that when people stop and look at them, they feel good. That’s why I do what I do, to make people feel better through art.
Street art is still a new concept here; street art or graffiti may be seen as vandalism by some. My pseudonym ‘Huvil’ is actually a combination of Humanity and Evil. I’m trying to show the good in the evil, which they would otherwise call vandalism. I always make sure to get the permission to paint on walls, especially is it’s a public space and I don’t paint on private properties. I usually go for power boxes and pick locations that are public and visible. Whenever I paint graffiti, I try to move on and forget about it because, I can’t really guarantee that it would be there the next day, so I try not to get attached. Street art and graffiti were established in Europe and North America in the 60’s, but it is still relatively new here. It would take some time for people to understand and accept street art, but it is happening.
Initially, people did not really understand what I was doing and there was some reluctance in accepting street art and graffiti. That’s when I met the Riwaq team and they gave me the support and push I needed to continue doing what I was doing. That also gave the platform to get my work recognized.
There is a lot of potential for street art in Bahrain, but it needs to be done right. Once you’ve established your style and technique, people will approach you and would want to see more of your work. Let your work speak for itself.
I got commissioned by a lot of companies and organizations, including the Ministry of Culture, Saudi Aramco, Zain, Batelco, Unlimited CrossFit, Winners Football Club, and Malja among others. That’s how I slowly built a brand and got more recognition. I also do jewelry designs, live painting and provide training workshops for younger artists. I’ve also recently established Colormaze. It is a paint shop, specializing in high-quality spray paint.
Besides my art work, I also work full-time as an Air traffic controller. It can be very stressful to manage both my art work and my day job, but the good thing about my work is that I don’t have to take it home with me, it stays only within the work hours. The rest of the time I can fully be dedicated to art. I make sure that I do continue working personal projects as well because if I only do commissioned work, I would be losing my artistic side. I always paint alone, when I’m free.
The Bahraini Street Art Movement
As an artist, I have two set goals that I try to work towards. One is focusing on my own personal style and working on my art and the other is to see street art grow in Bahrain and to contribute to that growth. I try to balance both, making sure neither is being neglected.
There is a lot of interest in street art in Bahrain but it had been abandoned for a while. But now because of social media and how connected people can be, it has become a lot easier to promote street art. I’ve personally worked with and trained artists who are willing to try and learn more about street art and it makes me really proud to see people that I’ve trained having their art around the country.
I really want to see street art culture grow in Bahrain and that’s why I always encourage young artist. A couple of years ago, there was a gathering of street artists in Dubai where we painted the longest graffiti wall in the world, it was 2.2 km long. There were over 180 artists from all over the world, but I was the only one from Bahrain. I really want to change that and want Bahraini artists to have these opportunities. I also want to bring together artists from the region and share their experiences and learnings with each other. I’m trying to make street art more mainstream within Bahrain so that people in and outside of Bahrain know that there are street artists in Bahrain and they are ready to go global.