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Kuwait sees quiet revival in arts scene
May 30, 2013, 3:08 pm

After two lacklustre decades, Kuwait is experiencing a quiet revival of an arts scene once known as the most avant garde in the Gulf, thanks to a new generation eager to tackle sensitive issues using cutting-edge art forms.

The artists have been exhibiting works in the graphic arts, photography, animation and fashion in private galleries but also bypassing traditional venues and arts groups - and possible censorship - by showing their work online to reach an audience beyond the 3.7 million people in Kuwait.

"They are creating an excellent buzz," said Lucy Topalian, who runs the Dar Al Funoon gallery in Kuwait which showcases contemporary art from around the world.

Young people in tailored trousers and elegant jackets packed her small gallery earlier this month to view Abdullah al-Saab's dark dresses, shirts and capes hanging from the ceiling in front of large black-and-white photographs.

The people in the photographs were blindfolded, some with labels such as "wife", "lover" or "friend". One depicted a man - the designer himself - bound with a thick rope, another a woman in a smart dress spilling coffee from a paper cup as a foreign maid kneeled on the floor to clear up the mess.

"I thought that some people would take it a little bit sensitively. The amazing thing is that they actually have an open mind and they can relate to it," said Saab, 27, on the opening night of the show, ‘Boundaries’.

Art aficionados and experts say those like Saab in their 20s and 30s are helping to revive a cultural life damaged by indifference, religious conservatism and, possibly most importantly, the Iraqi invasion in 1990.

Kuwait has since rebuilt its badly damaged oil infrastructure and in recent years private companies have poured money into building skyscrapers, shopping malls and restaurants.

But many believe the arts have been neglected in a country where state spending on basic public infrastructure has slowed in recent years due to bureaucracy and political infighting, despite huge oil revenues.

They point out that elsewhere in the Gulf, governments have not only spent heavily on transport and transforming public spaces, but also invested in museums and art projects.

Other Gulf cities like Dubai and Doha pulled ahead in the international arts world in the period, but some connoisseurs say Kuwait still holds the edge thanks to its rich cultural history and relative openness. Kuwaiti theatre, art exhibitions, commissions and patronage, television and radio drama are examples of creative innovation.

Kuwait enjoys greater political freedom and debate than the other countries in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and this feeds into an environment where artists can afford to take bigger risks, artists and art lovers said. Limits remain, however.

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