Wed, 09 August 2023
Graffiti and street art have always struggled to be held in the same esteem as other more traditional forms of art, yet with the incredible talents of local artists such as Salman Aljar, attitudes are slowly changing. Kristian Harrison spoke to him to discuss his influences, the art scene in the Kingdom and his desire to change perceptions.
Salman, who is better known on social media as Sojr, began drawing at a very young age and was rarely seen without a pencil and sketchbook in hand. However, in 2017 he started dabbling in street art and the rest is history.
“I love hip-hop culture and that was my main influence,” he says. “I used to break dance all the time and I was always watching a lot of gangster films and dance movies such as Step Up, and that is when I really started to feel like I fit into that urban culture.
“I began practicing with spray paints alone on my rooftop, and then in 2019 a friend of mine messaged me on Instagram and invited me to his group, Art Attack Krew, which is where the hobby really took off and I began learning so much.”
Salman, 23, recently left the Art Attack Krew to join another group of very close friends, who call themselves the Weirdos. The six artists, including four Bahrainis, a Saudi and an Emirati, do projects all year round and travel across the region to practice their art. Most of the time, they do their own individual pieces as solo artists, but they do collaboration work for public exhibitions.
Salman’s preferred style is portraits, and he is clear to make the distinction between graffiti and street art. The former is most recognisable as a written tag, with other forms including stencils, posters and stickers. Street art is defined as a work which is primarily for a public audience, such as murals and portraits, usually with permission from the building owner.
“I definitely believe myself to be a street artist,” he asserts. “I practice graffiti sometimes at home but I don’t find it as stimulating, just writing my name in different styles. Portraiture is a whole different world and ever since I saw an American artist named Kiptoe, who is my biggest inspiration, it’s all I’ve wanted to do. I just prefer to do portraits because every time it’s a different face, colour and shape, allowing me to express my creativity fully.”
However, expressing creativity is in fact Salman and other street artists’ biggest challenge. Specifically; where to do it.
“Here in Bahrain, people don’t like the idea of street art as they feel it destroys the look of places,” Salman argues sadly. “We believe the opposite and we refuse to listen to what they say. We love this job and we won’t stop until more people get the idea that street art can be beautiful.
“The biggest struggle is finding spaces to do our art. We often search for months to find places to practice, and without any sponsors we rely on the kindness of people occasionally letting us use their walls. We do have our own small space, essentially an abandoned house, but that’s it.
“Ultimately, the most important thing for us is to get people to embrace street art and how beautiful it can be. We would love to change the mentality, but I know this will be a long process.”
Salman’s work can be found on Instagram @sojr.official and he also produces vlogs and tutorials on TikTok, which is also @sojr.official.