Bahrain: The Lady Behind ALWAN 338

Alwan 338 was an event conceived by Alriwaq Space that took place during Bahrain’s Spring of Culture Festival.  It brought back so much colour, smiles, beauty, inspiration and HOPE to Bahrain.  It’s no denying that we have been stuck in quick sand since the events of last year.  Alwan338 was a breath of fresh air and reminded everyone of not only the essence of Bahrain but also of the talented people on it’s soulful island.  Block 338 was transformed into a little art haven.  It felt like our piece of “SOHO” “Greenwich Village”.  Every nook and corner had something you wanted to look at.  Bohemia was the heart of the exhibition, a rundown building turned into a walkthrough gallery of over 20 artists.  The facade of the building had been brightened up by the creativity of Sara Kanoo with her concept of the bicycles. The Park was a beautiful extension to the concept.  Sara Kanoo did an amazing job creating tables, benches and other stuff from recycled material and the little rustic cafe gave you a sense of the “old” Bahrain serving Karak Chai and other simple local yummies.  It was lovely to see my brother’s film City of Life by Ali Mostafa got to be chosen as one of the movies to be screened at this lovely event. There was movie screenings, children events, live music, workshops and lots of lots of ART to be a part of.  I wish Bohemia could remain as it is, an open structure for artists and youth to use to express themselves creatively and for it to be open to the public to enjoy.  Luckily in November Market 338 will be taking place so we’ll get that vibe back in Block 338.  A while back I got to pick the brain of the lovely lady behind the concept of Alwan- Bayan Kanoo.


Born in Iraq. Moved to Bahrain in 1986. Graduated from Bahrain University. Started Al Riwaq Art Space in 1998. Was active in art, culture, and social development. Transformed into a non-profit organization in 2006. Active in engaging  public art and developing the importance of art into the community and development. Board member of Al Mawrid Cultural Resources. Previous board member of AFAC (Arab Fund for Art and Culture).

How did the concept of Alwan 338 come around and how long did it take to bring it to life?

Alwan338 was a community collaboration which aimed at transforming under-utilized spaces, exploring the possibilities generated by art in public spaces, and highlighting local upcoming artists. It took around 3 months of planning and coordinating to bring it to life.

Everyone was so excited to see what Block 338 transformed into.  Did you expect people to be so passionate about it? 

No, it was a big surprise – very positive. I was hopeful, but I never imagined it to be that successful. Of course, social media played a big role in its success, as well as word of mouth to get the event noticed.

*Restaurants and cafes all got on board and joined Alwan338.  Was it easy to get them to see the vision of what you wanted to transform Block 338 into?

The surrounding restaurants were very supportive and realized Alwan 338 would be an uplift to the area. They were very engaged since they understood the individuality of Block 338, and were happy to highlight it by offering a plus to the entertainment sector in a cultural spirit.

Can we be hopeful that Alwan338 may turn into an annual series where we get to celebrate local artists?

Based on people’s positive response to the event and the space, Al Riwaq Art Space is planning on reinventing Alwan 338 each year and continue engaging the community in our projects especially through workshops which lead to the artworks displayed in Alwan 338.

Since Alwan338 turned out to be a success, do you think it’ll help create seasonal events and use Block338 for similar concepts?

Yes, we are aiming to have two main events per year, Market338 and Alwan338. 338 has turned into an easy platform to engage with people, and many institutions and individuals were interested in launching their projects in 338.

Finally, can you sum up what Alwan338 meant to you and what message you hope got across?

Art is an easy tool, which has depth and can reach to people of all levels. In the difficult time that Bahrain was passing through, it just proved that there are no differences between us and art can unite and connect back to our roots in a contemporary way. Alwan 338 reflected how Bahrainis are open minded and keen on change, and this gave me more courage to continue with more creative projects.

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Below are images that I took when I visited  ALWAN: