Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cul-tchure in Kuwait

Back in the teaching mode, I've been doing a lot of research for my 10th grade Introduction to Fine Arts class. I'm currently teaching a unit called "How can I find Art in my own Backyard" which is designed to have students realize that there IS indeed Art in Kuwait. They just finished a project where they researched Kuwaiti artists and gave reports on them. Very exciting stuff.

Pictured below are four pieces of the over 30,000 pieces of the Al-Sabah collection, which is art collected from Spain to China from the 1st - 14th century. The collection, started by Sheik Nasser and Sheika Hussah (members of the Royal family), was fortunately on it's way out of the country during the 1990 invasion. Most of the collection has survived (thanks largely to the Russians who kept it safely).

Monday night I was at a Art Lecture at the Dar Al-Athar Al-Ishlamiyah (the DAR for short) which is the cultural organization that manages the private collection and also has free lectures on Art, Music and other cool things. As I was listening to the lecture on Ceramics from the Middle East, I was overwhelmed by the thought that most Americans (and Canadians and maybe Germans) only think of Iraq or Afghanistan as places for war, not for the cultural heart of Islamic art that it is.

I'm learning how much Kuwait has to offer in the way of Arts, right along with my students. As my friend AH the Art Teacher said to me the other day, "See Nadine, you're not done with Kuwait yet".

I just took a minute to google "Destruction of Art during Invasion in Kuwait" for more information. Here's a bit of it for your edification:

Shaykha Hussah believes Iraqi leaders knew of the KNM and DAI collections in advance, for it took only until October for the Iraqi representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to state that according to the terms of the 1954 Hague Convention— which exhorts combatant nations to remove art and antiquities from the theater of war—most of the KNM collections, all of the DAl's, and several hundred thousand books from the library of Kuwait University had all been moved to Baghdad. (In contrast, the less well known collections of the private Tareq Rajab Museum remained successfully hidden throughout the war.)

As Shaykha Hussah and the museum's curators later learned, Iraq sent a small group of archeologists from Baghdad's Iraq Museum with instructions to pack up the art collections as quickly as possible. Lacking proper museum-quality packing materials, the archeologists bought metal trunks by the dozen in the Kuwait market and stuffed them with often fragile collections of ceramics, metalwork and glass. In the absence of foam pads, the packers used rare medieval textiles to cushion one object from another during the 500-kilometer (350-mi) ride, over rough roads, to Baghdad. Once there, the cases were opened and their contents recorded to create an inventory that was later used in the recovery effort.

Amazingly, of approximately 7000 art objects moved, only about 200 were damaged or broken. And Katie Marsh, DAI's London director who coordinated the post-war recovery, says that of these "very few, perhaps 10," were beyond repair. Especially surprising were the glass objects, which had no new breaks—although several were found to have collapsed when the intense heat en route melted the resin that had been used to mend them in the past. Most of the carpets were found in perfect condition, in part because a textile conservator had come to Kuwait just before the invasion to examine and repair each carpet and wrap it in a specially-made linen case. Somewhat paradoxically, the worst superficial damage was suffered by the hardest objects—stone architectural fragments—because they were not individually wrapped, and they jostled against each other in the trucks.

DAI's library on Islamic civilization and art, estimated at more than 5000 volumes, was trundled off with similar haste. Groups of books were tied with cord, loaded onto trucks and later stacked in the basement of the Iraq Museum. "It was heartbreaking to see how filthy they were when we found them," recalls Marsh, "but [the Iraqi archeologists] did the best job they could under the circumstances."

In contrast to the clearing of the DAI, the Iraqi treatment of the KNM collections was less systematic. Although much of the archeological, ethnographic and historical collections went off to Baghdad, some items, from wooden Bedouin bowls to ornamental weapons and silver and gold jewelry, simply went missing.

"The collection was never systematically looted," says Marsh. The director of the KNM, Fahed al-Wohaibi, agrees, and believes that such items were likely taken by isolated Iraqi soldiers. Not so fortunate was the modern painting collection: Only a few paintings were taken to Baghdad.

The KNM buildings remained largely unaffected until the last two weeks of the occupation, in February 1991, when three of the KNM's five buildings, the old dhow and the planetarium "were deliberately set on fire," recounts al-Wohaibi, citing later investigations that revealed the use of gasoline or kerosene. The fire also gutted the interior of the DAI, destroying the only work of art left there, a massive pair of 14th-century carved wooden doors from Morocco that had proved too cumbersome to remove from the building. The fire in the KNM buildings destroyed remaining archeological collections and about half of the remaining paintings; the other paintings were smoked-damaged. The only significant collection that was entirely spared, al-Wohaibi says, was one of decorated wooden doors from the houses of pre-industrial Kuwait.

*NOTE: I stood in awe of these doors on Monday evening.

In March 1991, according to United Nations Resolution 687, the Iraqis were obliged to return all property that had been removed from Kuwait. With the UN facilitating the restitution, the first items to be returned were gold bars from the Bank of Kuwait, an exchange that took place in a portable shelter at the Iraqi-Saudi border.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That piece of ruby art reminds me of a pomegranate.