Barjeel's new poetry prize is inspired by these 20 Arab artworks

The prize, which is available to those who write in both English and Arabic, aims to encourage fresh engagement with Arab paintings from the Barjeel collection

In Abdul Hadi El Gazzar's Two People in Space Outfits, a figure stares back at the viewer with a solemn look. He is wearing a large, round headpiece that the painter seems to suggest is an astronaut's helmet. It is, of course, a beekeeper's suit, which his companion wears, too. The painter has clearly seen something fresh in their garb, and the men stare as if unamused by this dreamy interpretation.

Can you think of a lyrical way to unpack the relationship between El Gazzar and his two subjects? Maybe the work has evoked something else in you that you’d like to explore in verse? If that’s the case, you might want to submit to the Barjeel Poetry Prize.

The painting is one of 20 works that the Barjeel Art Foundation is inviting poets from around the world to respond to in its first poetry competition.

Scroll through the gallery above to see all 20 artworks.

Poetry and art have had a long history of mutual inspiration and the prize – which is taking submissions in English and Arabic – aims to encourage fresh engagement with Arab paintings from the Barjeel collection.

The prize is taking place across six categories: English-language poems by authors between the ages of 14 and 18 with Arab heritage; English-language poems by adult authors of Arab heritage; English-language poems by international authors between the ages of 14 and 18; English-language poems by international authors from around the world; Arabic-language poems by writers between the ages of 14 and 18; and Arabic-language poems by adult authors.

On Barjeel's judging panel are the award-winning and widely acclaimed poets Naomi Shihab Nye, Hala Alyan, Raymond Antrobus, Tishani Doshi, Asmaa' Azaizeh and Golan Haji.

The foundation will be accepting submissions until Wednesday, September 30, and winners will be announced the first week of December.

The prize offers cash awards of $500 (Dh1,836) for first place and $250 for one runner-up in each category. The winning poems will also be published in the literary magazine Rusted Radishes and displayed in the Barjeel museum beside the paintings they are based on.

The prize’s guidelines state: “How to respond to the painting of your choice is open to interpretation. The relationship between poem and painting could be direct or tangential; you may choose to engage with the work, the painter’s story, or to address what the art evokes in you. The conversation the poem has with the painting can challenge and / or echo it.”

Visit to learn about the different categories, view the paintings and read the prize guidelines.