“Deconstructing the Construction of History”

Suha Hasan, Stockholm / Bahrain

This paper aims to deconstruct the construction of a historical narrative propagated by Charles Belgrave, the financial adviser to the Shaikh of Bahrain. In addition to his roles as an artist, writer, scholar, actor, stage designer, photographer, collector, copywriter, designer, and architect, he is depicted as the moderniser of Bahrain.

Charles Belgrave’s official post was Financial Advisor to the ruler; however, he would soon become the ‘de facto Prime Minister of the country’. Many controversies surround Belgrave’s role. On the one hand, he was employed by the ruler who seemed to delegate all tasks of ruling to him. On the other hand, however, Belgrave would report to the British Administration and write to the Political Agent requesting permission to carry out different functions and projects. He became a figure of authority who held much power through these ties to both the Empire and the local ruler. Furthermore, the numerous tasks delegated to him enabled a centralisation of power in his position. This power was exercised from his home and office, referred to by the uncommon name of the Adviserate.

Today, Belgrave’s political role is overshadowed by another (perhaps more significant) one: that of a historian of Bahrain. His contribution to the establishment of institutions was significant. However, it is his words that are deployed, often politically, to narrate the history of Bahrain that continue to have an impact. He created and published several writings about the country in various formats. The importance of his writings is made evident by the Lawrence of Arabia Memorial Medal awarded to him by the Royal Central Asian Society (now known as the Royal Society for Asian Affairs) on December 7, 1967 ‘for work in the Arab-speaking countries and in the Arabian Gulf and for many publications’.

This presentation aims to deconstruct his writings and propose alternative ways to read them, as well as alternative sources for Bahrain’s history.

(abstract is part of a section in my PhD thesis entitled: Spaces of Writing History in the Postcolonial City: Edits, Erasures, Inscriptions)

Suha Hasan is the founder of ASH, an architecture practice based in Stockholm. Her research explores obscure histories, material conditions and environmental impacts connected to the built environment, specifically archaeological and heritage sites. She has lectured and taught in universities in Bahrain, Egypt, Singapore, Sweden, Sudan and the UK.
Suha is the founder of Mawane, a platform for urban research based in Bahrain and a founding member of the MSc (Modern Sudan collective). Both platforms enable research and the sharing of its outcomes through public art exhibitions, talks and workshops. She is also the head of the AA Visiting School Khartoum and has served as a consultant for UNDP Sudan. Her current research investigates the agency of architecture and archives in the formation of memory in the post-colonial city.

She curated two cultural seasons at Mawane: the first, titled “[In]Accessible”, explored the privatisation of public spaces, and the second, “[Media]tions”, explored issues related to memory and archives.

Suha’s publications include “A Room of One’s Nation and Buildings of Independence” (archithese 4, 2022). She was also the research editor for the award-winning publication Places of Production, which accompanied the national pavilion of Bahrain at the Venice Biennale (2016).
She earned a PhD from KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm.
Suha currently lives and works between Bahrain, Khartoum, London and Stockholm.

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