Arts & Culture

How Dana Al Rashid raises awareness about Kuwait’s architectural heritage through art 

We speak to Kuwaiti artist about the inspiration behind her first solo art exhibition, Architecture of Memory.

العربية

By Sekka

On the Demolition of Al Sawaber, that forms part of the current Architecture of Memory Exhibition at the Khaleeji Art Museum. Image: Courtesy of Dana Al Rashid.

In the late 1940s, Kuwait experienced a significant economic boom that led to its transformation to a modern state. In the decades that followed, the country commissioned architects from around the globe to design landmarks, including the iconic Kuwait Towers and the Kuwait Water Towers, that would reflect this monumental shift into the modern world. 

But this effort to modernize has not ceased since, and has led to the demolition and replacement of numerous architectural jewels that were designed and built during that time, many of which occupy a significant place in the hearts of many Kuwaitis who have precious memories tied to them, and a number of which are a testament of Kuwait’s rich architectural heritage. These have included the 1980 built Ice Skating Rink, which reportedly was the first ice rink in the Middle East, and the 1981 built Al Sawaber Complex, which was the first multi-story form of public housing in Kuwait. 

The demolition decisions have, in many instances, sparked waves of protest on the ground and on social media, particularly amongst lawyers, activists and architecture enthusiasts. One Kuwaiti’s take on the matter, however, has a more artistic color to it. Dana Al Rashid is an artist, journalist and architect who specializes in historic building preservation and restoration, and who has recently dedicated her modern Islamic minaiture styled digital paintings and animations to voicing her opinion with regards to these demolitions, and to tracing and documenting Kuwait’s modern achitectural heritage, to ensure that it lives on- in art form at least- forever. She showcases 14 of her digital paitnings and animations through the Khaleeji Art Museum-the first digital museum dedicated to showcasing the work of Khaleeji and Gulf based artists- in a new solo exhibition titled Architecture of Memory. Together, they tell a modern national story of construction, demolition and a people who are trying to preserve their memories and identities.

We speak to Dana about the inspiration behind Architecture of Memory, the artistic style she chose for the digital paintings and animations showcased in this exhibition and discuss how her career as an architect has translated into her art. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Kuwaiti artist, architect and journalist Dana Al Rashid. Image: Courtesy of Dana Al Rashid.

When and how did your art journey start?

Dana Al Rashid: I have been drawing for as far as I can remember. Ever since I was about 9 years old or so, I would always carry a mini sketchbook with me, and draw every single day. Growing up, I was interested in all art styles, from comics to nature and realism. When the time came to choose my university major, I was determined to choose something creative, so architecture was my first choice. Studying [animation] at the Cartoon Network Animation Academy later on has really furthered my passion into a more professional path.

How did you develop your art skills?

Dana Al Rashid: The best way to improve your art skills is to carry a sketchbook with you wherever you go and draw on a daily basis, and that’s exactly what I did for many, many years. I remember how my art skills would drastically improve [in just one sketchbook]; I would see quite a stark difference between my earlier drawings and those made midway through the sketchbook. 

Viewing other people’s work and studying their techniques helped a lot, too. In architecture school, I took a lot of painting, design, art history and art criticism classes that helped me further understand art from a cultural and historical standpoint. I went to the Cartoon Network Animation Academy shortly after my graduation from Kuwait University, and that gave me plenty of practice as well. 

What themes do you enjoy exploring in your work generally? Why?

Dana Al Rashid: Well, it varies. I like to use my artwork the same way as I use my journalism and writing: to voice my -often unpopular -opinion and illustrate an alternative narrative. I love to explore and manipulate forms from nature to create a new aesthetic. I also really love to draw from our rich history and culture to create something contemporary and relevant.

How does being an architect affect your art?

Dana Al Rashid:I think you can kind of tell what my background is through my work, especially how the buildings from the current exhibition are technically drawn. More often than not, people experience an ‘aha’ moment once they learn my profession after viewing my work.

Working in the architecture/design field also makes me view my work from the eyes of a designer. I experiment with composition and various color schemes and textures.

The Last Skate, a digital painting by Dana Al Rashid that is now being showcased at the Architecture of Memory Exhibition at the Khaleeji Art Museum. Image: Courtesy of Dana Al Rashid.

Tell us about your solo exhibition with the Khaleeji Art Museum, Architecture of Memory. What inspired you to create the digital paintings and animations showcased there? How long did they take you to make?

Dana Al Rashid: Many years ago, an instructor at my university was enticing us to imagine what Kuwait’s landscape would look like if it was drawn in miniature format, and how it would regrettably be full of cars, asphalt, rundown buildings and very few trees. I believe the seed was planted then, but it was dormant for quite a long while. Seeing the rapid, aggressive demolition of modern built heritage awakened that visual in me once more, and I knew I had to do something about it. 

Each artwork takes, at the very least, a good 20 hours or so, sometimes even a lot more – around the 60 hour mark. I produce anywhere from 1 to 3 paintings per month depending on the complexity of the drawings. I like to take my time with them and not rush things through. 

Unpack the title of the exhibition- Architecture of Memory– for us please. 

Dana Al Rashid: Memory is an important aspect of one’s identity and culture. As a whole society experiences, relates to and interacts with buildings and monuments, a dialogue is created between man and built environment, and so, the architecture of memory becomes a crucial part of a nation’s identity. Therefore, systemic demolition is extremely dangerous because it gradually erodes the collective memory and sense of identity and belonging. It also destroys the values that such monuments stood for in favor of material gain.

The memory and the spirit of a place are subjects that have been intensively discussed in architectural theory and philosophy. Some things cannot be fully articulated, but only felt, so I will try my best to explain such concepts. From a spiritual perspective, it is said that the building collects and saves ‘imprints’ of energy from all the people who inhabit it and move through its spaces, nooks and crannies. While we cannot ‘scientifically’ explain such phenomenon, many of us can really feel it. It is amazing how we can conjure up so many memories once visiting an old building that is special to us.

Kuwait and Sweden: Parallel Worlds, a digital animation by Dana Al Rashid that is currently showcasing in the Architecture of Memory Exhibition at the Khaleeji Art Museum. Animation: Courtesy of Dana Al Rashid.

Describe the art style you used in this exhibition. Why did you choose to create your works in the modern Islamic miniature art style, as it has been described?

Dana Al Rashid: Choosing a historic style that may awaken memory and a sense of identity seemed like the logical thing to do, but to be honest with you, the process was a lot more natural than that; I simply just ‘did it’ intuitively.

I have also done this series completely digitally using my Wacom tablet, Photoshop and, to the surprise of many, Microsoft Paint!

As you said, all of your works for the exhibition were created digitally, and many of your other works are digital works too. Tell us about your journey with digital art.

Dana Al Rashid: Here I’d like to take the opportunity to discuss the ‘stigma’ around digital art. Unfortunately, many people seem somewhat disappointed whenever they find out that I hand painted my works digitally. It seems that they think that digital art means that the computer does it for you by a simple click of a button (like the dreaded paint bucket, for example), or that the process is simply easier or faster than traditional mediums; it really isn’t the case. The only real advantage digital mediums have over the traditional ones is the ‘undo’ button, I believe. If anything, digital mediums open the door for more details and articulation because of the zoom option and the ability to use very small brushes for mini details. So in the end, it is simply just another medium and it all depends on how you use it, just like traditional mediums. 

The Water Towers, a digital painting by Dana Al Rashid that forms part of the current Architecture of Memory Exhibition at the Khaleeji Art Museum. Image: Courtesy of Dana Al Rashid.

Which of the artworks from the exhibition is your favorite and why?

Dana Al Rashid: I really like The Last Skate. It has been my desktop background picture for a year now. A second favorite would be On the Demolition of Al Sawaber. I think what makes these two paintings so dear to me is that I was still experimenting with the miniature style back then, so there was a sense of uncertainty of what the outcome may look like. In these two paintings, I completely relied on my intuition and almost ‘channeled’ them. And you know, when you paint without a ‘recipe’ or a preconceived idea of the outcome, that’s when magical results usually just happen.

What do you hope the viewer gets out of the exhibition?

Dana Al Rashid:I try not to be too apt to preach, and wish that everyone has their own unique experience with the exhibition. But, If there is anything that I wish would be realized by the viewer, it would be the importance of built heritage and memory, and how they form a crucial part of who we are. And of course, I hope that the viewers get the visual joy and pleasure from the exhibition as much as I have enjoyed making the works.

You can visit Architecture of Memory until 31 March 2022 on www.khaleejiartmuseum.com.


The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.

This article was updated at 1:35 AM on 4 October, 2021.