Art & Culture

How Kuwait is storming the GCC art scene

The Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre in Kuwait is taking the art world by storm, L’Officiel Arabia sits down with some of the centre’s newest innovators to discuss their work, and what it means for the Middle East
Reading time 6 minutes

Established in March 2018, the Kuwaiti cultural hub Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre, has gone from strength to strength over the past 18 months. Most recently, it held its first international art programme in Italy alongside the country’s Venice Biennale. Featuring some of Kuwait’s best up and coming artists, the show was titled In my dreams I was in Kuwait. We sat down with three of the artists featured in the exhibition to learn more about their work, and the wider implications for the art market in the Middle East. 

Ahmed Ali Muqeem

How would you describe your work to people who have not seen it before?

At its core, my work represents the unique way we all see things differently in life, whether it’s a person, nature or a story. My work is an expression based on what I feel at a particular moment.

Do you see yourself as a Kuwaiti artist or a Middle Eastern artist, and why?

I see myself as a Kuwaiti artist who is connected to the whole world. I was born and raised in Kuwait. I am a self-taught artist and my work is shaped by my experience and international experience, with artists and museums. When I travel, I love to represent my country. I have participated and been invited to join many local and international exhibitions in Spain, Egypt, Greece, the UAE,  China, Turkey and most recently in Venice, Italy. My work has been showcased in many galleries locally and internationally and bought by local and international art collectors.  

Please could you tell us a little bit about your technique?

I use a classical approach, working with oil colours, charcoal and pencil, and of course, I use a camera in capturing my subjects. Since the start of my art career, I've been influenced by the old Italian old masters, the schools of Leonardo Da Vinci, Caravaggio's chiaroscuro, and Michelangelo's colour harmony. During my art career, I've studied Italians art and schools from the Renaissance to the 20th century, combined with my own studies and experiences. In general, I prefer old school materials to create a unique naturalistic result. In 2014 I joined an oil painting workshop for portraits and figures at the Florence Academy of Arts, where I trained with the master Jura Bedic. My trip to Florence was a turning point and made a huge improvement to my techniques.





Khaled Alnajdi

What was the first piece you created that you were proud of and why?

It was a painting that was inspired by someone very close to me called "Bipolar". It was the very first painting I created on a canvas. Psychology consistently fuels my work, and I am proud to have this focus in my work, it's a sort of investigative journey into the mysteries of the mind where I get to portray emotions and expressions and psychological states.

How would you describe your work to people who have not seen it before?

I use people as the foundation for my work. I tend to focus on their psyche and study the cognitive twists and emotional turns that occur in individuals.

Please could you explain the social commentary of your work? 

 In general my work is a reflection of my thoughts which are absorbed by living in society and it’s proximate surroundings; for example “obey and survive” is a painting contrasting rows of people dressed in white against a row of individuals in different coloured clothes. The scraped and distorted faces of the individuals with coloured clothes represent a group that goes against the rules and the status quo within a society such as scientists, artists and thinkers that choose to suffer for their individuality whereas the homogeneous group, the group that obeys and conforms, is generally safe and secure.

 How do you think Kuwaiti art is viewed more widely in the international community?

 Kuwait has the oldest modern art movement in the Arabian peninsula and has been active for quite some time now. We have many amazing artists and the newer generations are hungry for exposure and recognition. Kuwait has several institutions that help artists grow and develop such as the Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre.





Naseer Amin Behbehani

How would you describe your photography work to people who have not seen it before?

My work concentrates on humanity and the beauty of it. When I photograph people from different backgrounds, as much as I see the difference between us, I also see how much we are alike. After all, we are all human, and we all share that aspect. So I try to embrace humanity in my work.

Please could you tell us a bit about the camera you use?

I use Canon 5D Mark II. For the lens, I mostly use 50mm. I like that in photography, the artist is capturing a moment in time, and through that a reflection of reality, yet I guess the skill lies in the way that a particular artist or photographer can manipulate it in a specific way to deliver a certain feeling to the viewer. And that is the beauty of photography.

How was your experience at the Venice Biennale this year?

I guess I had an "Aha!" moment at this year's Biennale. It really opened my eyes to the contemporary arts, which is something quite separate to my work as a photographer. Two installations really caught my attention. A piece which gave the impression of entering another person's dream, and another one that looked at robotics.  What I liked about the pieces was that they were more about an experience rather than a singular piece of work.

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