Bahraini–Danish: Across continents and cultures
The work of Bahraini–Danish, as their name suggests, spans across continents and cultures. At the centre is a studio built on friendship and cooperation. A constant back and forth of ideas and ideologies that quite fittingly leads to products and spaces that promote conversation and community.
The incubation period of Bahraini–Danish began back in 2015, in the Muharraq-based studio of architect Anne Holtrop. Starting out as co-workers, Christian Vennerstrøm Jensen and Maitham Almubarak, along with Maitham’s wife Batool Alshaikh; the three architects quickly developed a relationship built around their shared values, both professionally and personally. Coupling these shared values with the diversity of their backgrounds; Christian from Denmark, Maitham and Batool from Bahrain, led to the foundation of Bahraini–Danish. A platform to celebrate both diversity and unity.
“To us as a group, everything is relatively strange and relatively normal at the same time, all the time. We like it when we discover something strange in ourselves, that we wouldn’t have come across on our own. You could say that’s what we pursue in our work. When it comes to culture a lot is about appearances, and emotions are attached to the appearance of food, places and traditions. Behind these appearances, the emotions are quite alike.”
Even within the formative days of Bahraini–Danish while Christian was living in Bahrain, their work revolved around conceptual objects that promoted a dual sense of locality and universality. With a common background in architecture, the studio’s work often takes cues from common-place, or even mundane architectural elements. Bridges, simple dwellings or structural columns are beautifully interpreted through noble timbers and veined marble. This combination of high-end material and an archaic formative expression is the calling card of Bahraini–Danish – a synthesis of their universal design language and honest materiality that enables the studio’s work to cross boundaries, as Christian explains;
“If our work is entirely Danish or entirely Bahraini, it’s obviously not Bahraini–Danish. If it’s too one-sided it somehow becomes closed off to the other or too implicit to that one culture. In that way our work is open and accessible and doesn’t belong anywhere, but to this new place or culture we’re making up together.”
Within a post pandemic society where travel is next to non-existent, the studio has had to adapt in more ways than most. With Christian living back in Copenhagen, Maitham and Batool in A’ali, their ability to work efficiently and effectively stems from time spent together in back in Bahrain; a time that allowed a sense of trust and respect within the studio. What started as field trips together in Bahrain, visiting local artisans and developing ideas over car rides, has evolved into a never-ending ping-pong of sketches, emails and phone calls throughout ideation to the production of each object or space. Whilst substantial obstacles remain throughout this new, forced working practice, it is a sense of comradery that continues to drive the work of Bahraini–Danish.
“We are constantly balancing our practice and our friendship, and both need equal attention and nurture – friendship being the most important of the two. The advantages of working far away from each other are few to be honest, except when we see each other it is something we’ve planned ahead and made time for. It is not something we take for granted.”
One advantage of a studio based across two continents is that projects can take on multiple lives within vastly differing contexts. Comprising of a simple seating plane, two legs and a curved central support, Bench 01 was featured as part of The Mindcraft Project 2021 in Denmark, whilst having another life as a character within the A La Chair project back in Bahrain. The simple, knock down nature of the piece and convivial function of the bench made it the perfect companion for photographers Camille Zakharia and Ali Karimi. A La Chair is a beautiful and honest representation of the people of Bahrain, moving throughout the country to capture everyday people and landscapes. The fact that Bench 01 is not the hero of the series, rather plays a supporting role, is a testament to the work of Bahraini–Danish. The project reflects the simplicity and honesty of Batool, Maitham and Christian’s work – an understated reflection of their shared experiences and cultural differences.