An architect specialising in historical building preservation by profession, Kuwaiti artist Dana Al Rashid has felt a strong urge to use her artwork to voice an opinion against the demolition of valuable historic buildings in Kuwait in favor of new, massive concrete buildings.
Drawing inspiration from her own culture and region rather than borrowing from external influences, Al Rashid has used the Islamic miniature style to illustrate relevant contemporary themes. Traditionally known as “art of the book,” she has created each miniature to look like a page of a book that tells a story of architectural identity, history and resistance and people coming together in communities, expressing an alternative narrative to the vision being enforced by others.
The artworks have a documentation quality to them, as they illustrate events surrounding the demolition, or threat of demolition, of the buildings. In a number of the pieces, you can see portraits of the activists involved in the event. However, reality merges with fantasy and the veil becomes thin, as we see time traveling characters from the Ottoman, Safavid and Abbasid Eras sharing the same space with contemporary activists and comrades.
Al Rashid also merges the ancient with the new by creating these pieces digitally, reintroducing new vocabulary to the old format, such as using pixel art to create mosaic frames, tiles and patterns. Despite the artworks being created digitally, integrity was ensured, as the artwork was drawn stroke by stroke using a tablet pen (i.e. no paint bucket nor instant “fixes” were used). Each piece is also embedded with descriptive text that often uses rhyming words- a form of rhymed prose called Saja in Arabic- staying true to the original miniature format that often includes a play on words.
The artworks also serve an important purpose: they shed a light on the concept of modern heritage and its significant value, especially for a young country like Kuwait. A building does not need to be made out of mud brick, or built somewhere around the 1920s, to have historical value. According to Kuwait’s monument laws, a building can be considered as such if they have a lifespan of 40+ years. “Younger” buildings can also be considered according to a variety of factors, such as the uniqueness of architectural style, as well as the significance of events surrounding the building, amongst other criteria that can precisely determine its value and status.
Kuwait experienced an economic and cultural boom from the late 1940s onwards, which transformed it to a modern country. The country commissioned international architects from all over the world to create iconic landmarks that would reflect this monumental shift into the modern world, such as the Kuwait Towers and the Kuwait Water Towers, which are also featured in the works in order to mark this national story of transformation. However, unlike these towers, there are many other architectural jewels have either already been demolished, or are under the threat of being wiped out at any instance, which shows the uglier side of the continuous modern transformation: demolition.
In the virtual exhibition, the works are laid out as monuments in honor of the historical, cultural and emotional value the buildings, structures and houses depicted in them have represented. They are displayed in the order the buildings, structures, and houses were built in, allowing the visitor, particularly the visitor who has witnessed Kuwait’s transformation, to take a stroll down “memory lane.” The virtual exhibition, as a whole, is set in a contemporary concrete block to symbolise how these monuments have been engulfed by concrete structures that continue to overtake the country.
Al Rashid hopes that this exhibition will raise some awareness about the importance of these monuments, as well as reflect the hopes, wishes and struggles of many Kuwaitis who wish to preserve their identity and memories in tangible form.
The exhibition is also available to view as a digital experience.
To read more about the exhibition, as covered by Sekka, please click here.
Architecture of Memory: A digital solo exhibition by Dana Al Rashid