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By Valerie Franchi   »  Even before she could read and write, Nawal Ahmed Kamal was painting. She had a love of art and creativity long before she knew what it meant to be an artist.

It was her father who actually discovered her talent and encouraged her. “He was very supportive,” she says. But it was her mother who had to clean up after the budding Van Gogh. “My mother told me that before I was in school, I was painting on the walls,” Nawal remembers.

From this auspicious beginning, Nawal continued to practice painting and drawing throughout her childhood. With the encouragement of both her mother and father, she followed her dream and is now one of the most well-known and established women artists in Bahrain.

She comes from a family of creative and educated people, although she is the first artist in the family. Her eldest brother is an architect, her father an esteemed journalist with Akhbar Al Khaleej daily newspaper and her grandfather opened the first library in the country many years ago.

Her love of colour and design also spread to her other hobby-turned-profession, that of interior designer.

She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in interior design from Helwan University in Cairo, Egypt.

After college, she joined the Ministry of Information as an art specialist, a position she only left last October. But she continued with her art and interior design in her spare time, participating in numerous exhbitions since 1985 and even opening Al Efnoon Gallery in the Seef Mall in 1997.

She also joined the Bahrain Art Society which she says is excellent way for young artists to meet other artists and have their work exhibited. Through the society, she has exhibited in local group and individual shows, as well as in exhibitions in Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Lebanon. “I hope to participate in more exhibitions outside of the Gulf soon,” she says.

There’s no doubt that her art would be appreciated outside the region. Already she has gained a following in Bahrain among both locals and foreigners.

Nawal’s art features traditional scenes in bright vivid colors, almost always featuring Bahraini women. “Bahrain has a rich tradition,” says Nawal. “I like the traditional and want to show scenes from daily life in this country.”

Nawal’s subjects are usually depicted in traditional settings, in villages, deserts or homes. But it is the faces of the women she paints that she finds most intriguing. “I get inspiration from photographs or memories of faces I have seen,” she explains. “And then I add my own details.”

Although set in Bahrain, Nawal insists her art could be anywhere in the Middle East. “Some people have told me that the scenes look like Egypt or Syria,” she says, adding that this gives her art a broader audience.

Until recently, Nawal’s style was mainly realistic and she works mainly in oils and acrylics. She has started experimenting with a more impressionist style, although she is still painting the same traditional subjects.

Several of her works are on permanent display in the Bahrain National Museum and Bait Al Quran, as well as in the national museum in Qatar. She has also provided drawing for a number of books of poetry by Saudi and Bahraini poets.

Some of her art is on display at her gallery, along with furniture and decorative items, such as vases, urns and china, that illustrate her flair for interior design.

“I have very specialized tastes,” she says, pointing out the ornate and lavishly uphostered chairs and tables in her gallery. “Not everyone likes my style, but it is my style.”

She travels frequently to Italy, Lebanon and Egypt to find pieces for her gallery.

With all of her travel and activities – she is also a member of several business and social organizations – Nawal has little free time.

What time she does have is spent helping to raise her two nieces and passing on her talent to others. In addition to her many other roles, she is also an art teacher. Perhaps her love of art will inspire other young women to follow in her footsteps.

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