Kuwaiti-based artist Aseel AlYaqoub’s inquiry has led to the creation and restocking (in terms of artifacts) of a museum that does not currently exist, in a typical Western understanding of “existing”. Instead, the National Museum is currently (and for the last three decades) open only to a very few small exhibits, operating at a seemingly much reduced capacity. Seeking to underscore the destabilizing conflicts that mark Kuwait’s short history and their lasting effects, AlYaqoub’s new work uses drawing to investigate the ongoing arrested development within the Kuwait National Museum. The drawings, gleaned from newspapers, found photos and other archival sources, portray the fmuseum’s artifact collection as ghostly outlines. Sparked by the turbulence of Kuwait’s continued efforts to modernize — including the rise and fall of the national economy and subsequent Gulf War —AlYaqoub’s work evokes the museum’s continued idling in the renovation process.

The museum’s first iteration was in 1957 in the palace of Khazal; typical elements include the initial two-storey structure made from coral stones and mud bricks. During the country’s late-60’s modernization push, the museum was (re)designed by French architect and urban planner Michel Ecochard, who discarded the previous palace architectural characteristics, and introduced a new structure in a new location, reflecting the then-current concrete-and-glass aesthetic. After visiting the museum in 1977, Andy Warhol remarked:

Visit to the National Museum, there’s no history to this place, it goes back twenty-five years. There were like eight rooms, one had three coins in the whole room. Think there was one room that Alexander the Great left some pots in.

However, the institution still housed a collection of Iraqi and Middle-Eastern artworks that remained there until the seven-month siege and looting of Kuwait by Iraqi forces in 1990. Though numerous artifacts were eventually recovered, the pillaging severely depleted the national archives, with hundreds of objects still unaccounted for. This loss is on top of the massive damage sustained by the museum, an action deemed a “crime against humanity” by the US military.[1] The museum has since remained stuck in a state of arrested development, with operations all but stalled, limping ahead with the skeleton of its past hanging off its back. Sourced purely from found documentation of its cultural spaces, AlYaqoub’s pencil silhouettes offer glimpses of a museum that no longer exists. These items will continue to haunt how the country’s national museum system — a system understood within Eurocentric (and Western-dominated) communities as an important institution for showcasing domestically held cultural artifacts — will be defined in the long term.


- Curatorial Statement by Matt Kyba

[1] https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1991-03-11-mn-145-story.html