For as long as anyone in Bahrain can remember, there have been tensions between the country's Sunni monarchy and the Muslim Shia majority. But when the Sunni government called in the Saudi military to crack down on pro-democracy protests in early 2011, the battle became brutal. Thousands of protesters gathered in the centre of Manama and four people were killed in clashes with security forces, with hundreds more injured.
In 2013, the government issued decrees restricting the rights of political groups to assemble and express themselves freely. Essentially, they took away their citizens' right to protest. Many neighbourhoods face nightly raids and attacks by security forces armed with tear gas.
Despite this, the people of Bahrain remain in stubborn defiance. Graffiti calling for the king to be overthrown is visible like never before and road blocks are a normal part of everyday life. These road blocks are used by civilians in Bahrain to prevent police from entering their villages while they are protesting. They use whatever they can get hold of: wood, metal, furniture, milk cartons.
The Road Bloc Collective are a group of photographers, researchers, activists and artists who have chosen to document the unrest in Bahrain. A new exhibition of their work, opening today in London, features photography, sound works and installation. The photos give a small insight into the climate of civil resistance in the country.
Four of the photographs in the exhibition are by Hussain Hubail, an award-winning photographer who has been held in detention in Bahrain since Summer 2013. Hubail was given a five-year sentence for inciting civil disorder and hatred against the regime. He frequently covered protests and demonstrations against the authorities and published writing on the human rights issues unfolding before his eyes.
To learn more about Hubail's situation and the images in the show, I spoke to another photographer from the Road Bloc Collective who did not wish to be identified for safety reasons; he will be called "Abo Fadhel" for the purpose of this interview.
VICE: First off, how has the use of urban space in Bahrain changed in the last few years?
Abo Fadhel: Since 2011, roads have become places where people stand up for their rights: sometimes they turn out as a war zone, sometimes as theatres for different expressions, through graffiti, sculptures and road blocks.
There has been a visible increase of security by the government. Why?
Yes, since March 2011, the government militarised the country. They spread militants in the middle of the capital, Manama. There are police cars all over the highways and police APCs on the entrances of the villages that are blocking spaces like the former pearl roundabout. Why? Because they are scared of a new movement, scared of protests, scared of people going out and asking for their rights peacefully.
Why is tear gas used in the villages?
To punish protesters along with the village people collectively, to prevent protesters from going out in the streets, to kill people in a slow way.
So how was everyone brought together into this Road Bloc Collective?
Well I took the pictures to cover what's going on in my country, to document the moments of people resisting for their freedom and democracy. I'm photographing all kinds of things happening around me – I love street photography – and these road blocks are just pieces of what I usually cover. I like the way that people are resisting.
I think my colleagues have the same passion; we want to be a part of a collective to show Londoners how we live every day.
WATCH: Interested in the situation in Bahrain? Watch our documentary 'Bahrain: An Inconvenient Uprising'
The Road Bloc Collective documents an ongoing battle for space, what do you think we learn about the relationship between space and power in Bahrain?
The government thinks it's more powerful when it occupies more space, by controlling entrances to villages – but that doesn't make it stronger than the people. It's just a matter of time till the Bahraini people go out again, take their places and liberate themselves from the army vehicles and personnel.
What have you learnt through photographing these situations?
I have seen these road blocks develop. The core aim is to prevent police vehicles from running over the protesters, but with time, the protesters start to use funny things sometimes and creative material other times. I'm witnessing the resistance.
Have you found yourself in any difficult situations? Have you ever been detained for taking photos?
Yes, I put myself in danger, and it was difficult to take good pictures a lot of the time. I was detained once but they had no details to secure me there.
Do you know one of the other photographers Hussain Hubail well? He is detained at the moment – why?
Yes, I know him, Hussain was always present during the early years of the uprising, then he was arrested, accused of spreading fabricated news and publishing news that incites hatred of the regime. All he did was take pictures; he captured the moment.
What do you hope the show will achieve here? Why have it in Europe? Could it show in Bahrain?
It is an art exhibition that aims to show the civil resistance of a tiny gulf country. We have lots of friends in London who helped us to put it together. We could not do such a thing in Bahrain; the government would destroy it like they have done with many other artistic projects that shed light on what's going on in the country.
What's next for you, where do you see your photojournalism going?
I'm still working, and covering as much as I can. I don't see a bright future under the same regime, but I hope for the best.
Thank you, Abo.
Road Bloc Collective's show opens at Rich Mix today. More info here.
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