It’s the first of December but the night is warm and almost humid. Traffic into Adliya is creeping past the Gulf Hotel and my driver suggests it would be quicker if I hop out and cross the road on foot.
I slip out of the car and into the crowds hurrying toward the distant glitter of twinkle lights coming from Al Riwaq’s The Nest. The Nest comprises a street market, live music, art installations, workshops, outdoor film screenings, and more. Designed to foster creativity, enliven Adliya’s public spaces, and bring together diverse creators and small businesses, it is an immersive, magical experience.
Following the crowds, I am swept down the main avenue, admiring the shops and art on display around every corner. The district is a classically Bahraini blend of old and new. Grandiose, crumbling villas crawling with bouganvillea share space with gleaming new restaurants overflowing with people making merry.
Smiling vendors beckon from stalls selling food, handicrafts, jewelry, clothes, and more. Strains of music – classic rock and Beatles’ covers – drifts through the alleys from the open air stage and people dance their way down the streets, singing along. The whole night has the feel of a giant, neighborhood-wide celebration.
My favorite thing about The Nest – and previous Adliya Bazaars – is the art. Perched atop windows, tucked behind sprays of bougainvillea, and hidden behind cement walls, beautiful examples of street art wait to be discovered and I wander around corners enthralled, my camera stuck to my face.
The creativity on display takes my breath away. I love how raw and organic all of the art feels; nothing is overly polished or commercialized, as if the streets and buildings themselves just happened to naturally sprout these whimsical additions all on their own. It’s not an easy feat for artists to balance their own vision with the feel of a neighborhood as distinctive as Adliya, but all the installations on display at The Nest managed to do that with amazing finesse.
It was finally time to do a little shopping. My friend – and recent interview subject – recently launched her dazzling fashion label, Black Anaar, and I was anxious to finally get my hands on some of her wearable works of art.
Black Anaar is creator Fran Stafford’s love letter to the kaleidoscopic cultural beauty of Bahrain. Inspired by fabrics sourced in the heart of Bahraini souqs and the cut of traditional regional garments, Black Anaar celebrates Bahrain’s famously dynamic cultural fusion.
A crowd of friends and acquaintances filled Black Anaar’s overflowing treasure box of a shop, slipping on glittering kaftans and sparkling velvet shirts for an impromptu fashion shoot. Amid the swathes of jasmine, beneath the black sky, we laughed and posed in the moonlight.
At the end of the night we trundled down the ramshackle streets of Adliya to Jim’s, where we pulled together tables to make room, ordered platters of midnight bacon, and carried on talking about fashion, interstitial poetry installations, the perils of rogue geography, and Mr. T’s bewildering career trajectory. It was the perfect shambolic ending to a wonderful night at Al Riwaq’s The Nest.