Abandoned places have attracted Sahr Baqeri since childhood. “Whenever I saw abandoned houses, I was always intrigued by the stories of these places, like who lived there? What happened to them? Why did they leave?” she tells us. Thus, when she grew up, she began exploring abandoned locations in her home country Bahrain, looking for answers to her long held questions. To date, she has visited forty abandoned places in Bahrain, including Saar Cinema, which was a popular cinema that has been abandoned for a several years, and Bait Al Abdulla, a well-known abandoned residential home that belonged to Abdullah Al Jabr Al Dosari, secretary to Emir of Bahrain Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, in addition to abandoned spaces in Bahrain’s various villages.
She then turned this passion for exploration public when she founded a digital initiative named “Abandoned Places Bahrain.” Abandoned Places Bahrain is a photography based Instagram account that showcases forgotten and historic places in Bahrain, and sheds a light on the more personal histories of the people of the Kingdom that are forever intertwined with the places they once inhabited.
We speak to Saher about what visiting abandoned spaces means to her, uncover what stories they hold and what feelings they evoke, discuss why she decided to share her passion with others, why it is important to preserve abandoned places and how she raises awareness about the need for preservation through her initiative. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you start this initiative, and what inspired you to start it?
Sahr Baqeri: I started about two and a half years ago but only started documenting it recently. My main inspiration was kindled by an abandoned house in Zallaq called Bait Al Abdulla, which actually belonged to the late Abdulla Al Jaber Dossari, and which has now unfortunately been vandalized and trashed. Although these houses are abandoned and are somewhat forgotten, they still carry and tell the stories of the people who used to live there. A crucial part of my of account is to remind people that although these places are abandoned, they should be valued and respected instead of vandalized because they are a part of the collective memory of Bahrain.
What intrigues you about exploring abandoned places, and when and how did this passion first begin?
Sahr Baqeri: Growing up, reading was a form of escapism for me. I was always drawn to stories, but especially the settings in stories. Hence, whenever I saw abandoned houses, I was always intrigued by the stories of these places, like who lived there? What happened to them? Why did they leave? Although exploring these places doesn’t always give you the full answers to these questions, there are always smaller stories that these places give you, whether through their architecture or even the objects left behind. I ask these questions and record the stories of these places through my account. Given the public format of my account, I received messages from one of the relatives of the late Abdulla Al Jaber Al Dossari and even people who had previously lived in houses that I had shared which are abandoned now. The account is an attempt at creating an open archive of these beautiful places in Bahrain, and inviting the public to add to this archive by sharing their own stories about these places.
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How do you feel when you visit abandoned places? Do different locations give you different feelings?
Sahr Baqeri: Absolutely. Of course, I am always curious about these different abandoned places but I did not expect that different locations would inspire different feelings in me. Some places leave behind a happy residue, while some have a loud sense of loss and even pain. Personal pictures, clothes and handwritten notes left behind always speak a language of loss to me.
What do you usually find in abandoned places?
Sahr Baqeri: The full nine yards, from personal photographs, to clothes, to toys, to books, to furniture. I have also found newspapers at these sites which hint at how long these places have been abandoned for. However, I have to say that some of the strangest objects I have found are a gas mask, a vintage car and a pull down ladder with a room.
“Personal pictures, clothes and handwritten notes left behind always speak a language of loss to me.”
Are there initiatives or individuals you take inspiration from?
Sahr Baqeri: Every country has a page that documents abandoned places. So, I felt like Bahrain deserves to have a page like this because Bahrain has a beautiful history that is worthy of being documented.
Why did you choose Instagram as your medium to do so?
Sahr Baqeri: Instagram is an open medium that allows other Bahrainis and Bahrain’s residents to share and add their own stories about these places. For example, there is a house in Mahooz that I once shared pictures of and two different families reached out and wrote about how they used to live there. This type of sharing allows for some sort of archive to pile up about these places. The forgotten starts to resurface.
What is your favorite/most memorable abandoned location in Bahrain? Why? What is its story?
Sahr Baqeri: My favorite place so far is an abandoned house in Shahrakan. The neighbor actually gave me a tour and told me that the house is over 100 years old. The house preserves its old Bahraini architecture with a courtyard in the middle surrounded by large pillars. The traditional wooden door and windows are rarely seen anywhere today.
“My account tells a different kind of history of Bahrain than the one we find in history books, even history books that we study and read in school. It’s a more personal type of history that seems micro, but I believe creates a different kind of relationship to our home and land.”
If someone were to start exploring abandoned places in the Kingdom which location(s) would you recommend they start with?
Sahr Baqeri: It depends on what the person is looking for. I would suggest Manama and Muharraq because there is a lot of sites with traditional architecture that is worth exploring.
What should a person keep in mind when exploring such places? What should they be aware of?
Sahr Baqeri: Some advice I would give aspiring urban explorers is to understand that every hobby has a set of principles for the participants to follow because they are there for the good of that person herself/himself. For a hobby like this, one must remember that these abandoned places belong to Bahrain. Start off by exploring small places but do not break into places and accept that some places are off limits. Most urban explorers live by this quote “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.” The main rules of urban exploration are: Don’t trespass, don’t break into places, don’t steal, don’t litter, don’t vandalize and because most people tend to do all of these, most importantly don’t share information regarding location. It is extremely sad to see Bait Al Abdulla in Zallaq become a byproduct of all of these broken rules.
Which location(s) do you hope to explore next? Why?
Sahr Baqeri: I would really like to explore the houses in Dumistan when the weather gets cooler. It is one of the oldest coastal villages in Bahrain that I feel like has been overlooked.
What are your future plans for this initiative?
Sahr Baqeri: I think my account tells a different kind of history of Bahrain than the one we find in history books, even history books that we study and read in school. It’s a more personal type of history that seems micro, but I believe creates a different kind of relationship to our home and land. I’m not sure where this initiative will go in the future but at the present moment, I am focused on collecting and recording more stories through my personal explorations and through listening to other people’s stories about these places. As I mentioned earlier, a big part of my project is to raise awareness about vandalism because these places are an important part of Bahrain’s collective memory.
To find out more about the Abandoned Places Bahrain initiative, visit their page on Instagram .
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