Press Release  September 29, 2021

Dana Al Rashid’s "Architecture of Memory" at Khaleeji Art Museum

Khaleeji Art Museum.

On the Demolition of Al Sawaber by Dana Al Rashid.

September 2021 — In On the Demolition of the Al Sawaber, a group of characters from different eras surround the Al Sawaber Complex- the first multi-story form of public housing in the Kuwait that was built in 1979—and shockingly and helplessly watch as it is demolished before their eyes. The digital painting tells a story that Kuwaitis have become too familiar with, that of the demolition of historical houses, structures and buildings such as the Al Sawaber Complex, that not only have architectural value for the nation-state, but also sentimental value for Kuwait’s citizens and residents who have precious memories associated with them, in favor of building more modern—and often soulless—structures. 

The digital painting forms a part of the Khaleeji Art Museum’s newly opened solo digital exhibition, Architecture of Memory, which showcases fourteen digital paintings and animations by Dana Al Rashid, an emerging Kuwaiti artist, journalist, and architect who specializes in historic building preservation and restoration. The exhibition, which tells the story of the construction and reconstruction of modern Kuwait, presents Al Rashid’s perspectives on the frequent demolition of buildings and houses that are a testament of the country’s rich architectural heritage, and which form a crucial part of its collective memory and identity. “Memory is an important aspect of one’s identity and culture. As a whole society experiences, relates to and interacts with buildings and monuments, a dialogue is created between man and built environment, and so, the architecture of memory becomes a crucial part of a nation’s identity,” explains Al Rashid. “Therefore, systemic demolition is extremely dangerous because it gradually erodes the collective memory and sense of identity and belonging. It also destroys the values that such monuments stood for in favor of material gain.” 

The exhibition, through which the digital paintings and animations are presented as monuments in the virtual experience to signify the importance of each depicted historical house, building, and structure, also serves to document many of the buildings and structures so that they continue to exist forever in art form, at least. Digital paintings by Al Rashid that freeze such structures in time include The Last Skate and Abdullah Salih Al Hamly’s House. The former depicts activists skating one last time at Kuwait’s Ice Skating Rink, which was first opened to the public in 1978, but demolished in 2020 to accommodate the third phase of development of the Al Shaheed Park. The ice rink was a space where many Kuwaitis made special memories growing up. Abdullah Salih Al Hamly’s House is an illustration of the now-demolished Al Hamly family home that represented the blend of tradition and modernity in architecture, an approach that was particularly prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s. Houses built during that time now exist in decreasing rates in Kuwait.

Courtesy of Dana Al Rashed.

Dana Al Rashid.

The Arab Gulf State experienced a significant economic boom in the middle of the 20th century that transformed it into a modern nation-state. To reflect this historic transformation, the country commissioned international architects to design iconic buildings such as the Kuwait Water Towers and the Kuwait Towers, in addition to other structures. However, this quest for modernization has not ceased since, and the cost has been the loss of buildings that showcase the country’s architectural heritage and identity, which has led activists, lawyers, and architecture enthusiasts in Kuwait to protest these demolishments both on the ground and on social media. In turn, Al Rashid has used her architectural and artistic skills to express her perspective on these demolishments and to raise awareness about the need to preserve buildings, homes, and structures of value .“I like to use my artwork the same way as I use my journalism and writing: to voice my -often unpopular- opinion and illustrate an alternative narrative,” she says. And her work has caught the attention of others. Shortly before the Kuwait Ice Rink was closed to the public and demolished, for example, Al Rashid’s The Last Skate was circulated on social media.

What has made Al Rashid’s work noteworthy is not only its important subject matter, but also its style, which forms a contemporary twist on the historic Islamic miniature art style “Choosing a historic style that may awaken memory and a sense of identity seemed like the logical thing to do,” Al Rashid notes when she explains why she choose this particular style of art for the works showcased in this exhibition. “But to be honest with you, the process was a lot more natural than that; I simply just ‘did it’ intuitively.”  Al Rashid also incorporates characters from different eras in her digital paintings and animations, such as the those from the Saffavid Era and the Ottoman Era, to create rich dialogues that cross time and space.

Khaleeji Art Museum.

The Water Towers by Dana Al Rashid.

It was during her time in Kuwait University as an architecture student that Al Rashid became more familiar with Islamic miniature art, and began to see it through a more local lens. “Many years ago, an instructor at my university was enticing us to imagine what  Kuwait’s landscape would look like if it was drawn in miniature format, and how it would regrettably be full of cars, asphalt, rundown buildings and very few trees. I believe the seed was planted then, but was dormant for quite a long while. Seeing the rapid, aggressive demolition of modern built heritage awakened that visual in me once more, and I knew I had to do something about it,” she continues. Each artwork took the artist between 20 to 60 hours to complete and was created using her Wacom tablet, Photoshop, and, to the surprise of many, Microsoft Paint.

“Unfortunately, many people seem somewhat disappointed when they find out that I hand-painted my works digitally. It seems that they think that digital art means that the computer does it for you by a simple click of a button (like the dreaded paint bucket, for example), or that the process is simply easier or faster than traditional mediums; it really isn’t the case,” she adds. The only real advantage digital mediums have over the traditional ones is the ‘undo’ button, I believe. If anything, digital mediums open the door for more details and articulation because of the zoom option and the ability to use very small brushes for minute details. So in the end, it is simply just another medium and it all depends on how you use it, just like traditional mediums.”

As for what she hopes visitors will leave the exhibition with, Al Rashid says, “I try not to be too apt to preach and wish for everyone to have their own unique experience from the exhibition. But, if there is anything that I wish to be realized by the viewer, it would be the importance of built heritage and memory as a crucial part of who we are. And, of course, I hope that the viewers get the visual joy and pleasure from the exhibition as much as I have enjoyed making the works.”

To visit the Architecture of Memory, hop on to  www.khaleejiartmuseum.com. The exhibition can be viewed through both virtual and digital experiences until March 31, 2022.

About the Khaleeji Art Museum: Founded in May 2020, the Khaleeji Art Museum is the first digital museum that is dedicated to showcasing the work of Khaleeji and Gulf based artists and photographers by holding regular online exhibitions of their work and on the ground activations. The mission of the museum is to build strong cultural bridges and engage in cross-cultural dialogues. Previous exhibitions have included Khaleejis in the Time of Corona,  Art for Change and Enough is Enough. You can find out more about the Khaleeji Art Museum by visiting: www.khaleejiartmuseum.com. 

Architecture of Memory
Start Date:
September 29, 2021
End Date:
March 31, 2022
Venue:
Khaleeji Art Museum

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