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The Contemporary Platform presents Aseel AlYaqoub’s first film, which is an accumulation of found footage gathered over four years with a focus on Kuwait’s diplomatic history and military developments. Combining archive documentary material with interviews, newsreels, politcal cartoons and plays, the artist questons natonal collecive memories by spewing grainy library footage onto the screen to a soundtrack of music by classical composers and local singers such as Sergei Prokofiev and Abdullah AlRuweished.

The film begins with aerial scenes of picket-fenced houses amidst a vast desert, neatly arranged into a small community. A young couple emerges from their humble abode, playfully pushing their child within his miniature vehicle. A man plays golf, a woman lights a cigarette amongst friends on the patio, an outdoor haircut followed by supper on an elegantly set table and all under a searing sun. They were the British living in Al-Ahmadi, Kuwait, and by 1961 it was time for them to leave. Kuwait bids farewell to the Anglo-Kuwaiti protectorate to greet the independence of a newly formed nation-state. However, a week later, the new nation soon experiences the first threat directed towards its brand-new sovereignty.

It is from here that the film builds the stage to perform a series of events, contemplating the defence mechanisms put in place to maintain Kuwait’s autonomy. Content is sourced from existing archive material such as news broadcasts, interviews, advertisements... plays, TV series and cartoons. A new montage is executed, presenting events engrained within our collective memory whilst also retrieving what has been lost and ignored. Mixed feelings are invited as we watch Saddam Hussein gift a gold-plated Kalashnikov to Sheikh Jaber Al-Sabah, less than a year before Iraq invades Kuwait. This is countered by a continuous progression of external diplomatic efforts throughout, and in parallel to, the slow but constant enhancement of the nation’s military. The film brings those moments back into the present time, into the light, and launches them into the future.

While there is plenty of news footage of sinister events, there is also subtle satirical commentary and playful imagery. Margret Thatcher’s speech of distaste towards Saddam Hussein in 1990, is paired with a popular scene from the Kuwaiti play ‘The Sword of the Arabs’, where Abdulhussein Abdulredha performs a brilliant depiction of Saddam Hussein singing uninhibitedly. An awkward handshake between King Salman Al-Saud and a Qatari delegate at the GCC Summit, eagerly mediated by HRH Sheikh Sabah Al-Sabah, is interspersed with ‘it’s a beautiful day in this neighbourhood’ sung by Mister Rogers.

Mister Rogers later concludes the film with a PBS Public Announcement made during the 1990 Gulf War, reassuring the young American audience watching the green screens of missile attacks on television that ‘all will be well’. This is expressed right after Kuwait raises its latest alert in response to the drone-bombing of Saudi Aramco. ‘100 Soldiers Somersaulting’ does not offer a compelling political vision for the future of Kuwait or the region. Nevertheless, it attempts to draw a messy and complex narrative into focus, and in doing so perhaps bring forth some questions on whether a nation should focus on peaceful diplomatic efforts, strengthen its military, or both.

A Hundred Soldiers Somersaulting
January 14 - January 16, 2020     
The Contemporary Art Platform, Kuwait

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ⓒ Aseel AlYaqoub, 2022