Nasser Alyousif, Conquering Darkness Through Strength of Vision

Nasser Alyousif was one of the pioneers of visual art in Bahrain. During the 1960s, he became an active member of the Bahraini art scene, embarking on a revolutionary journey characterized by a serious, rigorous approach, along with a group of other pioneers in the local art movement. He drew from life, drifting through cities, villages, neighborhoods, popular cafes, and orchards, wandering along the shorelines among seamen, where fishing boats and traditional sightseeing vessels proliferated in the waters off the Bahraini coast, his visual repertoire rich with scenes of daily life and Bahrain’s famous virgin natural landscape.

He was also particularly interested in the stories of the pearl divers, featuring them prominently in a lot of his sketches and diagrams, collecting their stories as well as those from the lives and work of a lot of the older fishermen, unearthing their meaning and symbolism in paintings that featured intricate details of the famous Bahraini profession of pearl diving.

Al Yousif was one of those artists who honed the creativity of his artistic ideas to produce a unique form of art rooted in place, fed by environment and popular heritage, with a foundational experience vast in both breadth and diversity, enriching his repertoire with all the vocabulary of the simple daily life teeming in the neighborhoods and alleyways of the cities and villages of Bahrain, documenting the rich pageant of local human experience: men, women and children, common fashions, domesticated animals, birds and palms, simple household utensils, traditional percussion instruments, authentic local architecture and gypsum motifs… as well as so many other particularities common to Bahraini society. He was a pioneer in his documentation of local public and private life on a visual and artistic level, creating a rich tapestry of memory both for himself and for the people of Bahrain.

In his artistic practice, al-Youssef melded all the current styles to forge his own unique form that combined a dexterity of expression with powerful ideas, infusing immeasurable simplicity into both his implementation and delivery. His unique symbolic expressiveness sprang from an approach that merged a magical, self-contained simplicity with an authoritative structure and precise execution, all in the service of a talent and visual awareness through which al-Youssef managed, with great vitality, to forge an exceptional and central way station in the lush geography of his own formal practice as well as within the larger landscape of Bahraini art, for in addition to his incomparable artistic talent, he possessed a vision rare among other artists.

In 1994, he began to complain of a deterioration of his eyesight, which gradually increased until he lost his vision entirely after prolonged illness and several surgeries. When he lost his eyesight, he became the rare artist who fought the darkness with the light of his artistic vision, curbing its dominion with an extraordinary brilliance that challenged the loss of an artist’s most important sense—his eyesight. His work teemed with sound and sight, exceptional among all the Bahraini artists, unique in his choice of subjects, use of materials and multiple techniques of execution, inspired by the popular social environment and the common built landscape prevalent in Bahrain since the 1950s, producing a rich, unique body of work embedded in Bahrain’s artistic memory and imaginative heritage.

Those of us of his generation who loved him called him Professor Nasser, not simply because he surpassed us in years and artistic and life experience, but because he outshone everyone in the intricacy of his ideas, the strength of his insight and the substance of his technique and expression. He surpassed even his own artistic and human mastery when he battled the darkness on its own terms, not only preventing it from shadowing his forest of colors and thwarting it from staying his brush, but making it surrender to him, using the blackness to create a huge group of paintings that represented a turning point in his dazzling body of work, through which he perhaps hoped to impart to us, his colleagues, that a darkness at the heart of one’s vision is indeed part of one’s rich, lived experience, that it is in fact a breathtaking color that we have long avoided placing on our palettes.

Nasser Alyousif managed to assert his overwhelming artistic passion over the encompassing darkness, facing it in battle in the interior of his own eyes, fighting its authority and forcing the blackness to submit and become part of his arsenal of colors, making it help him achieve an incredible body of work whose symbolism and vocabulary were fed by a vast storehouse of visual memory crammed with the abundantly diverse details of the living social and environmental lexicon of Bahraini life, without ever denying what the whole spectrum of experience had brought him or giving up his richly expressive ability to direct the eloquence of his ideas and the fluency of his meanings… all of which is prominently displayed in the paintings you see before you here.

Nasser Al Yousif - Biography

Bahraini artist, full name Nasser Sayed Mohammed Al Yousif

Born: 1940, Muharraq, Bahrain.

Died: 16 June 2006

Born in the Al Hayayeek neighborhood in Muharraq, Bahrain.

The family moves to a new home in Manama.

Attends Western Primary School in Manama.

Meets the artist Abdulkarim Al Orrayed at the Western Primary School, who is his art teacher encourages him to participate in the school’s art club.
Meets artist Ahmed Al Sunni, his art teacher during his secondary school days.

Founding of the “Art and Literature Club”. Founding members: Abdulkarim Al Orrayed, Ahmed Al Madani, Salah Al Madani. Members: Ahmed Jaffar Al Shabeeb, Ahmed Al Gosaibi, Jameel Al Jishi, Abdulkarim Mohsin, Salah Al Madani, Mohammed Hasan Al Tajer, Abdulkarim Al Orrayed, Abdulrahman Kamal, Nasser Al Mutawa.

Attends Teachers Higher Education Institute in Manama; graduates with a teacher diploma in 1959.

Founding of “Family of Art Amateurs,” Arts and Literature Club dissolved. Founding members: Karim Al Bosta, Rashid Al Oraifi, Abdulkarim Al Orrayed Rashid Swar, Aziz Zubari* Abdulkarim Al Orrayed, Salah Al Madani, Yousif Ahmed Yousif, Aziz Zebari, Hussain Al Sunni, Salman Al Dalal ** Dedicated to the visual arts, music and drama. (*source: artist autobiography) (**source: Abdulkarim Al Orrayed’s book)

Participates in the first exhibition of the artist association, the Family of Art Amateurs. Other participating artists are Ahmed Baqer, Karim Al Bosta, Ishaq Kooheji, Rashid Al Oraifi, Ussama Salah, Ahmed Al Sunni, Aziz Zubari. The exhibition of exclusively oil paintings is held at the Uruba Club in Manama.

Participates in the fine art exhibition held as part of the Commercial and Agricultural Fair in Al Andalus Garden; the artists shows an artwork called “Winter Night”; opened by Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, accompanied by Charles Belgrave.

Art teacher at Khameez School, Salmaniya School and Al Gharbiya School; meets artist Azis Zubari at Salmaniya school.

1960 onwards
Attends Abdulkarim Al Orrayed’s art salon at his store in Shaikh Abdulla Street; this is an informal gathering place; other participants include Karim Al Bosta, Ahmed Baqer, Rashid Oraifi, Rashid Swar, Hussain Al Sunni, Ahmed Nashaba.

1960s to late 1970s
Founding of Al Talib Stationary Store by the family of Nasser Al Yousif; the store becomes an artist hangout and key supplier of artist materials and book and periodicals on art history and techniques amongst other items; it was the first store to import acrylics into Bahrain.

Attends Alexandria University in Alexandria, Egypt for a course in geography/history; Meets the Egyptian artist Mustafa Al Bazzaz, who strongly influences the artist in the folkloric tradition of painting.

Founding of “Family of Bahraini Artists” . (*Founded in 1964, remains active until 1970, organizes 16 exhibitions)

Participates in the Middle Eastern Art exhibition organized as a competition by the British tobacco company, House of Carreras; the exhibition travels to 7 Arab countries and 3 European countries. The exhibition opened in London, and then moved to Paris, Rome and on to Cairo, Beirut, Amman and Baghdad. It was a watershed exhibition in terms of exposure and cultural exchange* (*Abdulkarim Al Orrayed interview)

Participates in an exhibition held in Kuwait organized through the artist association, the “Family of Bahraini Artists”.

Participates in the second Arab Biennial Exhibition in Morocco and in Jordan.

His artwork “Diver’s Wedding” is featured in full color on the cover of the Al-Arabi Magazine in Kuwait.

Begins work on illustrating the work of Bahraini poet Ali Abdulla Khalifa “The Thirst of Palms”; published in 1970 in Beirut, 4 editions.

Founding of the “Contemporary Art Society” on the initiative of Abdulkarim Al Orrayed; other founding members Rashid Al Oraifi, Hussain Al Sunni; the organisation thrived under the leadership of the artist Ahmed Baqer on his return from studying fine arts in Paris in 1974.

Participates in all the exhibitions held by the Contemporary Art Society.

General Manager and partner in Arabia Glass & Mirrors Company.

Contributes cover illustration to the book “Where does the sadness come from?” by Bahraini poet Alawi Al Hashimi on the Palestinian occupation.

First installment of the Annual Fine Art Exhibition, held under the auspices of the newly independent Bahraini government’s Ministry of Information; receives award as one of Bahrain’s top ten artists.

Yearly participation in the National Day exhibition mounted by the Ministry of Information, Bahrain; and the Annual Fine Art Exhibition at the Bahrain National Museum.

6th Annual Fine Art Exhibition by Ministry of Information – Certificate of Merit.

7th Annual Fine Art Exhibition by Ministry of Information – Certificate of Merit.

Receives the Delmon Award in the Annual Fine Art Exhibition in Bahrain

Receives the Delmon Award in the Annual Fine Art Exhibition in Bahrain

Participates in the Assilah Cultural Forum, Morocco together with Abdulkarim Al Orrayed, Ebrahim Busaad, Kamil Barakat and Ishaq Khunji; joins the printmaking workshop and meets Mohamed Omar Khalil, who would exert a profound influence on the artist;

  • Encounters the work of Swiss-German artist Paul Klee resulting in an increasing belief in artistic automatism and the strength of the subconscious/ rejection of educational and academic dictates.

  • Orders a lithographic printing press on his return to Bahrain and begins experimentation in the medium.

Participates in the GCC Exhibition in Qatar and Singapore together with Abulkarim Al Orrayed, Yusuf Qassim and Rashid Al Khalifa.

Participates in the GCC Cultural Week in Paris.

Joint exhibition with the artist Ebrahim Busaad about Israel’s invasion of Lebanon; held at the Alumni Club in October.

Organizes exhibition of zinc engravings in Bahrain at the Alumni Club; other participating artists Ebrahim Busaad, Abdulkarim Al Orrayed, Kamel Barakat* (*source: Dr Maha Sultan)

Founding of the “Bahrain Art Society”.

Becomes president of the Bahrain Art Society.

Participates in the First International Biennial Exhibition of Arab Art, held in Cairo.

Participates in the GCC Cultural Week in Japan.

Contributes cover illustration to the book “Beginning of Love” by Bahraini poet Abdulrahman Al Rafie.

Solo exhibition of zinc engravings sponsored by the Bahraini publishing, framing and export-import trading company Dar Al Ghad and held at the Bahrain Car Parks Company Building.

Participation in the 9th Norwegian International Print Triennale.

Suffers a fall while cleaning his bird cage.

Starts complaining of deterioration of eye sight*

Complete loss of eyesight.

Recognized in Sharjah as a pioneer in the field of the Fine Arts in the Arabian Gulf.

Solo exhibition held at Al Bareh Art Gallery, titled “Challenge”.

Solo exhibition held at Al Bareh Gallery, titled “Retrospective Exhibition”.

Receives the Al Dana Award in the Annual Fine Art Exhibition in Bahrain, the highest honor in this annual event in Bahrain.

Receives the Golden Palm Prize, Qatar.

Solo exhibition at Al Bareh Gallery, Bahrain, titled “More Than Meets the Eye,” features exclusively linoleum prints.

(16 June 2006) The artist Nasser al Yousif passes away.

The Nasser AlYousif Archives
538 Road 7509
Janabiya, Bahrain 575
Jamal Alyousif, Archivist
Phone — +973 330 17770
Fax — +973 1779 2816