Bahraini artist, Enas Sistani, has been curating thought-provoking imagery addressing societal issues and current affairs. She tells Farah Baig about her journey as an artist and the objective leading her conceptual photography.
I don’t want to stick to photography in the conventional sense. I don’t want people to look at my photos, think it’s nice and it ends there. No, I want to be able to spread awareness and convey a message; I believe arts can play a significant role in that,” says Enas passionately.
The Bahraini artist’s curated imagery remains etched in one’s mind long after you’ve seen it. Her impassioned approach to conceptual photography has encouraged conversation and action around topics including mental health, genocide, gender roles and disparities, body dysmorphia and women empowerment among others. “I believe arts as a medium can implement change as you can say so much with just one image,” she says.
Despite the fact that Enas’s photographs having resonated with people across the region, and drawn the attention of BBC and CNN, she remains modest and recounts her journey to developing her photography.
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
After venturing on a solo trip through Europe in 2016, Enas shared pictures she had taken on the platform X, which was then known as Twitter. “I’m a very visual person, and so I ended up paying attention to little details including the day-to-day lives of people which I captured on my phone,” she explains.
The appreciation and encouragement of viewers led Enas to create the Instagram account @solovagabond where you can now find her art. “I was then encouraged to get a camera, something I was initially very much against, but then I decided to go for it,” she says. “I bought the cheapest camera that I could find. I didn’t know anything about them or how to operate them so I opted for a beginner’s camera and just started clicking,” she adds.
Her initial stint with a beginner’s camera paved the road for a much bigger vision – one with lots of routes for her creativity. “I’ve worked on developing my art through trial and error, and even YouTube videos. It’s been a learning curve, and I still don’t think of myself as a professional,” she says modestly.
When asked about her preferred subjects to photograph, Enas explains that her interest in photography began with, and is still, street photography. “Being an artist with many mediums, I sometimes write poetry; street photography reminds me so much of poetry,” she says.
“When you capture one scene, it can tell you a gazillion stories. Everyone is open to interpret it. So, you look at it and maybe it means something to you but it could mean something very different to me. I just find it beautiful,” she explains.
Her interests soon branched out to encompass conceptual photography as she wished to raise awareness and share her personal experiences too. This served as a great tool for Enas to shed light on topics and encourage spirited reactions.
“I don’t go for a topic blindly but rather research them meticulously so they are well represented. Most of my conceptual projects are based on my own experiences, but then there are others inspired by those of my loved ones or, in some cases, society,” she says.
“The sheer number of responses I receive from people sharing that they have been through the same thing encourages me to explore topics that resonate with people,” she adds.
STANDING WITH PALESTINE
The conflict that is currently unfolding in Gaza, Palestine has garnered worldwide attention. Enas, not being one to shy away from current affairs, has been aptly capturing the emotions of supporters attending the peaceful protests in Bahrain.
“Through these peaceful protests you’re able to highlight public opinion and build that pressure so more people become aware of what’s happening. Some people may believe that there is no point in attending but I see it as a collective effort which has a ripple effect as other countries are now doing the same thing,” she says.
At the time of the interview, Enas recounted that the previous weekend’s protest had been covered by international news channels. “There is a positive outcome to it: it drives conversation around the subject. They’re speaking up,” she says.
Enas has not only been documenting these rallies, but has also delivered an impassioned speech at one of them which garnered a widespread reaction. Through the imagery captured at the peaceful rallies, she hopes to achieve change. “I have Palestinian friends, and when I post these images, it helps me show them that they are not alone. It helps us show that we are connected and that we feel for them,” she says firmly.
LET’S TALK ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
Enas’s series on mental health drew wide-spread recognition starting with a feature from BBC that went viral. The powerful imagery on mental health featuring props, and quotes written on her face, were an impassioned depiction of her own triste with mental health.
“With the mental health series especially, when I created these images, a lot of people approached me saying that they have been going through the same thing and feel like they can’t talk to anyone about it. Some of them felt like I was representing them which they appreciated,” she says.
Some of Enas’s followers have shared that they sought therapy after coming across the series – a reaction that Enas finds greatly rewarding. “It’s just being able to see that change first hand that’s great. I would love to keep doing that forever,” she says.
“It makes me happy that people can relate to my photography. There is always that bridge where it connects me to them. And it’s interesting to see where they are and how they feel and what they’re going through when seeing my photos,” she adds.
THE NEXT STEP
IN the foreseeable future, Enas hopes to highlight more topics from a conceptual photography concept, but also hopes to delve into art installations. “With arts in Bahrain, I believe we could use more sponsorship. I have a list of ideas for installations but everything would have to be out of pocket so they are on hold,” she says.
“I’m very much interested in like combining arts with sort of like social aspect of it like civic engagement. Maybe it’s going to be like sort of like a bridge between the two of my passions, which is helping people while creating art.”
To view Enas’s powerful photographs, follow @solovagabond on Instagram.