“I’m interested in producing art that asks questions as opposed to generating definitive answers. It’s about creating opportunities for dialogue and self reflection,” says Aseel AlYaqoub, the award-winning artist who explores her Kuwaiti identity and her country’s complex history through socially engaged art. “I always wanted to pursue a career in art but at the time I graduated from high school, it wasn’t considered a legitimate profession in Kuwait, so I chose to study architecture,” says the artist, who moved to London at 17 to attend the prestigious AA School of Architecture. “One important lesson I learnt from my mother, is that one is more likely to succeed when they are passionate about the work they do, so after four years of working in the architecture industry I moved to Brooklyn in 2013 to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts at the Pratt Institute,” notes the artist, who began exploring the role reconstructed histories and collective memories play in shaping national identities.
Artist Aseel Al Yaqoub in her studio with her mother Maha Al Ghunaim
“While at Pratt, I became fascinated by Kuwait’s transformation into a modern nation-state,” says Aseel, who divides her time between London and Kuwait to gain greater access to research materials. “London gives me the space to step back and examine my culture from a fresh perspective,” says Aseel, who regularly visits the British Library to research its archives. “It’s an amazing resource of books and documents which provide the earliest written accounts of the Gulf’s modern history. Since Britain colonized much of the region in the late 19th and 20th centuries after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, it holds archives that don’t exist in the Gulf,” adds the artist, whose 2018 exhibition at Kuwait’s Sultan Gallery, included a series of collaged stamps titled Culture Fair. Representing two years of research, each work sought to deconstruct and demystify symbols of Kuwaiti heritage and progress through its national stamps. “I was intrigued by the role stamps have played as a tool of propaganda to express a country’s heritage, culture and technological aspirations.”
Recently Aseel and fellow Kuwaiti artist Alia Farid won the Jameel Art Center’s inaugural art commission, for which they’ll create an immersive light installation called Contrary Life: A Botanical Light Garden Devoted to Trees. Installed in the desert-inspired courtyards of the organization’s new building in Dubai, they will address a vanishing history of a different kind. “In the rush to build neon-filled mega cities, there’s been a loss of our natural environment which is also a living part of our heritage. We wanted to present an imaginary and improved past similar to architecture, by proposing an illuminated botanical garden featuring new hybrid species based on local plants,” says Aseel, who continues to use her critical eye as an artist to address issues impacting future generations in Kuwait and the region.
From May 2018 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia
Photography: Maha Alasaker