A herd of tribal settlers approaches. You allow them to settle on a land of great history. Below you are layers of empires established by the Mesopotamians that pile below the Islamic caliphate. The merchant settlers elect a tribe to rule this territory. They build dhow ships to pearl dive and fish on. They build mud houses and abandon their caravans. They become regional weapon smugglers. The land transforms into a trading port bustling with merchandise and people. The Arab desert around you transforms into an Arab city along the silk trade route. Its autonomous nature intrigues the Ottomans and the British. They begin to bicker on either side of you. You observe as the ruler of Kout toys with them. A new flag is raised in front of you, the Ottoman emblem is gone, and the land you stand on is now a British protectorate.
Allow the British to draw a small nation with a red pen.
Call it Kuwait.
Turn a merchant elected tribe into rulers of an emirate.
Call the leader Emir.
Replace the flag with a new design. Keep it fresh.
Give out citizenships to specific tribes.
Call the British to help extract oil.
Once the Americans are interested, call them.
Sell lots of oil.
Import architects and urban planners. Bonus points if they are Scandinavian.
Demolish existing mud-wall borders to make room for infrastructure.
Fill the gaps with highways.
Tear down mud houses – replace with incongruous mansions.
Create districts. Once these are defined, create areas. Once these are defined, create blocks.
Share some of the wealth with the citizens.
Give them free healthcare, free education and voting rights.
Give them houses.
Design a constitution and let the people vote in a parliament.
Build a parliament building. Bonus points if a Scandinavian designs it.
Call yourself a democracy.
Encourage neo-liberalism and Islam.
Shove all dhow ships into one port.
Park yachts in front of new coastline malls.
Create foundations in the form of heritage institutions and cultural festivals.
Infuse nationalism and patriotism into the citizens.
Continuously project cultural themes on modern media as national political culture.
Invent cultural tradition.
Invoke old memories. Gain the ‘Nostalgia Is Power’ perk.
Celebrate traditional values and folklore.
State-sponsor everything you can.
Control the perception of history.
Rebuild what you accidentally destroyed.
Cheaply renovate what still remains.
Allow freedom of speech to a certain extent.
Censor what you are unsure of.
Adjust bursts of development over long periods of time.
2 x 4 x 8" stained stud, x3 magnifying dome, 3 layer stamp collage
Detail 1 of 18
Detail 2 of 18
Detail 3 of 18
Sooner or Later & Culture Fair
Sooner or Later & Culture fair
Sooner or later - leaking inflatable pool, water, 2 blue buckets, orchard picking ladder, green shelf, 1950 Magnavox radio, power
Heritage Wall no. 6
Installation shot (back and interior of wall)
Embargo & Checkpoints
Edge of Arabia, London
Out of Kuwait residency in collaboration with the Royal College of Art
Edge of Arabia, London
Past Preservation and Recent Reconstruction
(Essay for OOK Catalogue)
It is challenging as an artist to be born and raised in a young country where art is considered a recreational hobby by the masses. Although we have experienced a noteworthy series of historical events, art in Kuwait has rarely ever been used as a megaphone for social and cultural commentary. I am not denying the fact that we have had artists in the past, and more emerging currently, that have used their talents to create art that is informative, experimental or reactionary. I am merely stating that we have not experienced a focused art movement that held hands with social, cultural or political movements.
To understand this notion, I will explain Kuwait’s history. As a nation, Kuwait has only been independent for 52 years, and the need for economic and urban development became the priority. With oil brewing under our soil, we were able to quickly catch up with the world and build on our education and services. During the 60’s, Kuwait managed to throttle itself ahead of its neighboring countries and became renowned regionally over time for its theatre, music and art.
“Before Doha, Dubai, or Abu Dhabi, the city with the boldest ambitions in the Gulf may have been Kuwait. In the 1970s, everyone from I.M. Pei to Andy Warhol traveled here to build, show, experience, and experiment in an atmosphere that was flourishing, at least in part, care of a sudden oil boom.” – DIA Magazine
Due to economic growth many Kuwaitis became avid travelers, which in turn influenced a change domestically and socially. This growth leaned a lot on the “sudden oil boom”, however I believe that the main influences came from the bourgeois liberals. They began hosting artists, initiating galleries, and importing books and art supplies. Art became a commodity and many Kuwaitis became enthusiastic art collectors. The government also supported the arts financially, and sponsored artists by giving them grants as well as scholarships to study abroad. They also founded Marsam Al Hur (The Free Atelier), which still exists today, and consists of studios that can be used by local artists for free.
The 80s saw the rise of the religious movement and the decline of the artistic and cultural movement. As the influence of the new movement grew, scultpures were torn down and theatre doors closed. New and stricter censorship laws created a stagnant atmosphere for the local artists, limiting their creative freedom and once prospering art environment. After the 1990 Gulf War, the dynamic of the country as a whole changed even more, along with it’s social and political ideologies. Universities are no longer coeducational, there are no formal art schools and galleries are very cautious and specific with the press. As art was no longer precedence, a lot of the press had closed down their cultural sections, which limited artist exposure and also denied the majority of the public from knowing much about the art scene. Artists, as an outcome, began secluding themselves and became exclusive to a very small part of our society. This snootiness, although justifiable, had isolated the art scene further from the major public and had constrained itself from expanding.
I am part of a limited art community that contains a handful of art educated artists. Many of us have received education in other fields so that we may financially sustain our art “practices”. An art education enhances ones theoretical and critical thinking, and by studying art history and movements can start to initiate a change within society both politically and culturally. It is also vital that artists integrate themselves within their society and understand the larger audience. As artists we can construct a change by searching out new audiences and support each other in developing dynamic art practices. In order for these practices to progress, we should detach ourselves from the international art practice and start to identify within our local spheres.
The younger generation of artists is opting for art majors, and many of us are refining our art direction through reading, education and travel. The social respectability of art in Kuwait is increasing, as more artists are finally committing to their art practices full time. There are multiple social networks online that invite the public to view miscellaneous works by different artists. Facebook groups are being formed to advertise different art exhibitions and events. Art blogs are becoming more critical in their writing and some have developed into art magazines. New galleries are launching on a yearly basis that adds a new competitive edge on another layer. Individual artists and art groups are beginning to merge and more solid amalgamations are being formed.
Slowly but surely, these changes have invited different facets within our society to join the discussions and debates. It is also encouraging more individuals to be more artistically inclined, and pursue a more rigorous art agenda. There are multiple workshops that are being run by galleries and artists, which include abstract calligraphy, textile, painting, photography and writing. More artists are participating in art residencies abroad and take courses to expand on their technical skills and explore more mediums.
Out of Kuwait is the first local art residency and the diversity of disciplines in this show is an example of the potential that can be extracted from Kuwait. Although we have to abide by censorship laws, cultural and religious taboos and a few other restraints,does not mean that the art itself is limited. As these are challenges we constantly face, we must work around them until we manage to categorize ourselves within the art world. Only then can we start lifting some of the limitations and truly expand on our individual artistic capabilities without the self-orientalizing elements.
The work in this show is driven by our own personal experiences, concerns and imagined nostalgia. It is a reaction to the questions that we have been asking as a generation and we are attempting to unearth the answers via artistic means. I see this exhibition as an experiment, and the mixture of backgrounds within this group of artists creates a unique show that can be the basis for critique and development. To many of us it is a starting point and to some an expansion, but nonetheless a chance to voice our concerns.
Sultan Gallery, Kuwait
Aseel AlYaqoub & Abrar AlMusallam
Sultan Gallery, Kuwait
Amidst the advanced console gaming systems around the world that entice the gamers to experience a new sense of reality, exists a game that has existed for decades. “Kot” is a Kuwaiti game that is widely known across the region, especially by the male society. A popular game to play in the Deewaniya, Kot is taken extremely seriously by most people who enjoy a more grounded gaming experience. When playing this game, both teams need to have an almost telepathic understanding with their partners. It involves tactics, strategy, a bit of card counting and a lot of luck to win this game. The cause of wars in most social gatherings, Kot has proved to be a card game that will still exist in the generations to come.
However, although this is a Kuwaiti game, we are playing with cards that do not signify our culture or language. By understanding the significance of the terms used in Kot, as well as the names of each key card, we have recreated a new set of cards tailored to the Kuwaiti player…
…A set of cards that would compliment this game and its player.
Dimensions: 2 Decks of cards – 3.5 " x 2.25" each
Edition numbers: 1 out 20
All 20 Editions were SOLD.
Year of Teddy, Kuwait
Sultan Gallery, Kuwait
Teddy B. is my alter ego. I created him to help me settle back into my society after being away for 6 years. I would take a photo of him on a daily basis for 365 days and upload it on a blog. What started off as a social project quickly turned into an interactive experiment. Not only did I manage to see parts of my country that I had never seen, but I also managed to create a network using a stuffed bear to interact with different people living here. The blog quickly became popular and Teddy’s journey was witnessed by over 1'500 people on a daily basis. It gave me the opportunity to discuss political, religious and social issues through photography.
Teddy didn’t end up helping me settle back, however he did make me realise that I enjoyed being on the borders of a society. I enjoyed being able to observe from the outskirts and not have to commit to a community. I guess he made me realise how individualistic I am.
After the 365 days, I created an exhibition showcasing “our” journey. Teddy, along with a publication and his photos, were sold for charity. Being an anonymous blogger, this was also my coming out party.