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When trying to map a significant, complex, paradoxical region in terms of history, aesthetics and politics like the Arab Gulf region, it is very easy to fall into clichés or reductive descriptions. In ‘Popular Games’, Aseel AlYaqoub presents the omnipresent lingering of that contradictory world. Being born and raised in Kuwait, she is fascinated by its cultural, heritage-related foundations. Cultural traditions become invented. Traditional values and folklore are reaffirmed and celebrated. They are all appealed to through nationalist, patriotic themes and discourses. Her work is thus an inspection of pre-oil Kuwait’s characteristics vis-a-vis its post-oil national identity. She uses imagined nostalgia as a critical lens to question a nation’s attachment to invented rituals and perseptions of heritage.

Once a humble coastal town surrounded by a gated wall, Kuwait is now a sprawling metropolis, meandering between oil fields, sea and desert. Ushering its transition toward modernity, a series of acquired Master Plans transformed Kuwait's physical and infrastructural environment. The plan called for the demolition of old Kuwait to pave the way for a new state capital. Today only five gates remain and have recently been revived as monuments of a recent past.

Heritage Wall no.6 stands freely, at an angle, in the middle of the white gallery space. The corner is chipped, and the interior of the wall and its construction are exposed. Parts of the wood studs are stained, referencing the cheap methods used by the state in its renovation processes. In its totality, the free-standing wall props up as a theatrical simulation of an authentic heritage wall. Its weathered appearance, physical dysfunction and dependence are metaphors for social dependency and a handicapped democracy. A crippled chair leans against the authoritative structure precariously, balancing a 'reserved' plaque on its lap that raises the question: for who?

Sooner or Later is a sculptural installation inspired by the tragicomic Kuwaiti television series ‘Darb el-Zalag’ (1977). Presented as a national allegory, the work is composed of found objects that combine to form the psyche of a nation. Through its sensory and visual experience, both aggravating and seductive, the elements align through a hierarchical arrangement that tests the viewer's fight or flight mechanism. The work attempts to translate the utopic visions of the premise of Darb el-Zalag made unachievable due to civil society’s reliance on the state, which, in turn, needs its citizens to remain dependent on its mercy to operate.

Her other works test the status quo through the act of self-censorship while confronting established orders within the public and private space (Embargo & Checkpoints) and present past and present cultures that are contradicted by the very making of modern national narratives (Culture Fair).
Popular Games
April 20 - April 24, 2015     
DeKalb Gallery, Pratt Institute, New York, USA

Wesbite: www.pratt.edu/art
Instagram: @prattfineart

ⓒ Aseel AlYaqoub, 2022