BIN MATAR HOUSE
Nasser Al Yousif
Born in 1940 in Muharraq, Bahrain, Nasser Al Yousif was a pioneer of the modern art movement in Bahrain. At a time when there were but few role models of how to be an artist, very limited resources in terms of physical artistic materials and more importantly a lack of institutions dedicated to the fine arts, Nasser Al Yousif and his contemporaries strode forward and led the way in the formation of a modern art movement in Bahrain.
While an artistic inclination was evident from an early age, it was during his school years that Al Yousif’s potential was discovered and nurtured by his teachers and artists Ahmed Al Sunni and Abdulkarim Al Orrayed. These early forays into the field of art blossomed more fully in the 1950s and 60s as Nasser Al Yousif joined various artist groupings. Jointly they would explore Bahrain by strolling through its souks, harbors and gardens on weekends.
From the earliest days, the characteristics that would see Nasser Al Yousif through his artistic life were already evident – a true passion for the human story as lived out in the
daily lives and traditions of his native Bahrain, a relentless and rigorous approach to any field of enquiry and an innate curiosity and desire to explore and experiment with various artistic formal languages, media and methods.
While never a formal student of the fine arts, Nasser Al Yousif absorbed knowledge on the history of art and its manifold processes through any means possible – from periodicals, historical texts and texts on art theory and practice available in Bahrain to international exchanges through workshops and exhibitions. From exploring the landscapes of Bahrain in his early years, Nasser Al Yousif went on to participate in most of the major art exhibitions in Bahrain and represented his country in group shows abroad. In the first art exhibition after Bahrain’s independence, Al Yousif was recognized as one of the country’s top ten artists. Further recognition followed in Bahrain and the region, most notably the award bestowed in 1995 by the government of Sharjah, recognizing Al Yousif as a pioneer in the field of the Fine Arts in the Arabian Gulf.
In addition to his tremendous artistic achievements, Nasser Al Yousif played an important role in the development of the artistic infrastructure in Bahrain. From his active participation in artist gatherings and associations, he went on to become a founding member of the Contemporary Art Society, which he would be president of from 1983 to 1986.
Through Al Talib Stationary store, which Al Yousif founded together with his cousins in the 1960s, both books and periodicals on the arts as well as artist raw materials, such as acrylic paints, became available. In 1980 and after attending the Asilah Cultural Forum in Morocco, he was the first to import printing presses into Bahrain. He was generous in sharing and imparting his knowledge and Bahraini artists from Abduljabbar Al Ghadban to Jaffar Al Oraibi, Zuhair Al Saeed and Mohamed Al Mahdi cite Al Yousif’s formational influence.
Together with a rigorous approach and generosity of spirit, came a sense of compassion and civil courage, which manifested itself at its strongest in an exhibition he held together with Ebrahim Busaad in 1982. Dealing with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, the works in this exhibition show an artist who is not afraid to express himself and deal with difficult political issues. While the works in this exhibition obviously deal with a brutal subject matter – massacre, violence – a sense of foreboding and unease radiates through many works in the artist’s oeuvre.