The Water that Asked for a Fish
Mariam Alnoaimi

The Wapping Project has commissioned Bahraini artist Mariam Alnoaimi to produce a new work focusing on the relationship with bodies of water within one’s environment.

Bodies of water – seas, lakes, springs, aquifers – can be seen as a medium of politics and poetics through which stories are told and narratives are unraveled into multiple layers of geography, ecology and collective memory. They are in constant change; their movement – the shift from presence to absence, or vice versa – can be a result of natural phenomena such as tides, storms and seasons, or human interventions: island building, land reclamation, creation of reservoirs, climate change.

The Water that Asked for a Fish  will look a set of bodies of water as living entities rather than objects within the environment. The recognition of water bodies as living beings is already embodied within stories and daily interactions in many local communities. Indigenous knowledge is inherently entwined with the natural environment and embedded within the practices and language of its community.

The first part of the project  will focus on a series of water bodies in Bahrain and invite a group of poets, marine biologists, ecologists, writers, fishermen and community members to respond to them daily over a period of time: the tidal waters in Karbabad, Lawzi Lake, Tubli Bay, Safahiya Spring and salt marshes on Sitra Island.

The project will weave this factual information with stories and rituals embedded within the local culture, including: the ritual of putting an eyeliner around an eye of a fish, wrapping its body with a white shroud, before returning it back to the sea as an offering; the tradition for a widowed woman to spend forty days of mourning in isolation from anything considered as a masculine entity, including objects that have masculine gender in Arabic language, after which she is guided to the sea to dip her body (the sea in Arabic has a masculine gender); the ritual of ‘burning’ the sea with palm leaves set alight by women who have pearl divers in their families as a revenge for their hardships.

In the second phase, the project will engage with bodies of water and communities beyond Mariam’s home country.

Mariam Alnoaimi is a Bahrain-based artist, working on the intersection of visual arts and urbanism. In her research-lead practice, she draws on her education in Urban Design – a Fulbright Scholar at the Master of Urban Design programme at the College of Architecture and Planning of the University of Colorado in Denver, 2017 – to contemplate relationships between people and their surroundings, and how they affect each other. Her installations, video pieces, photography, collages and participatory works examine questions around cartography, cognitive mapping, the built and natural environment, identity, memory and storytelling.

Alnoaimi’s work has been exhibited at the Bahrain Fine Art Annual Exhibition since 2014, where she recently won Al-Dana Prize (2021). She has shown widely in Bahrain. Outside Bahrain her woks were included in: Staple: what’s on your plate? exhibition at Hayy Jameel in Jeddah (2022); The Wait exhibition presented during the Venice Biennale in 2019; Video Art Forum, Dammam, Saudi Arabia (2018); and ArtBAB (Art Bahrain Across Borders) at Saatchi Gallery, London (2017).

The new project will draw on Alnoaimi’s established methods of working and key interests in memory, storytelling, environmental justice, local communities and fragile environmental systems.