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A sculpture by artist Sami Mohammed.—AFP
A sculpture by artist Sami Mohammed.—AFP

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwaiti sculptor Sami Mohammed finished his towering statue of the country’s first emir over four decades ago, but now it just gathers dust unseen in a long-shuttered office block.

Stymied by a conservative view of Islam that bans representations of the body, the 75-year-old faces any artist’s nightmare: he can’t get his work displayed to the public in his homeland.

Like other sculptors in the Gulf state he bristles at claims that his creations constitute idol worship and urges the authorities to push back against demands he sees as outmoded.

“We have to get past these issues because the human, the individual, has reason and thought, and it’s really not possible that we would go back to worshipping idols,” Mohammed, himself a devout Muslim, said.

“We no longer live in a time of ignorance. We live in the era of technology.” While there is no law in Kuwait that explicitly prohibits the display of sculptures or statues in public places, the Gulf emirate is home to an influential circle of conservatives that has pushed to lock them up. Kuwait’s Museum of Modern Art is a prime target.

It opened in 2003 and boasts multiple statues of people by Kuwaiti artists in its collection.

But they all sit behind closed doors, hidden from the public eye, as a debate centring on Islam and art rages.

Artist Badr Fadel Alemdar, 42, is convinced he knows the reason sculptures are being hidden.

He says “fear” among officials of clashing with conservatives prevents his work from seeing the light of day.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2018

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