Photos from Kuwait 30 years after the Gulf War

Kuwait is known for its oil, the Gulf War, the Daguet division and Operation Desert Storm. But what most people don’t know is its rich history, heritage, and architecture.

It is a country where over 90% of the population lives in its capital, Kuwait City, where the demolition of many historic sites has assumed such epic proportions that soon no trace of history will remain, leaving room for even more new buildings, shopping malls and other business centers.

2021 is the 60th anniversary of the country’s independence and the 30th anniversary of the end of the Gulf War. With the help of Professor Hasan Ashkanani, this series aims to tell the story of the country and its inhabitants, and to constitute a cultural archive made up of images and testimonies of a heritage which will soon disappear.

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir’s palace was damaged during the Iraqi invasion. The site is an excellent example of the vibrant cultural and social exchanges between Kuwait and its neighboring countries. Although today this site is in ruins, it represents the ability of the people of the region to embrace diversity and change while emphasizing the cultural versatility and vibrancy of Kuwait in its conversation with the world. The palace has been one of four sites considered for candidacy for UNESCO’s World Heritage program since its inception in 2014. The Diwan escaped the extensive plan to destroy the old town in the 1950s, designed to create the image of a country considered at the time as the most modern in the Gulf. It thus becomes one of the last historic buildings in the country and benefits from the growing craze for Kuwait’s lost history after its independence in 1961.
Muhammad Hussein Nasrallah Marafi, founder of Marafi Hussainiah.
A Hussainiah is a typical place to celebrate religious events, especially related to mourning Muharram. Different from a mosque, a Hussainiah can also be a place of accommodation for passengers and pilgrims. It has been recently redesigned to provide optimal comfort to guests at events, and now subtly merges new lighting, sound system and air conditioning with original mud stones, wooden columns and windows. traditional.

His Highness Emir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah – the thirteenth Emir of the Al-Sabah family and the third ruler of Kuwait after independence – remains one of Kuwait’s most loved and distinguished rulers and has gained the reputation of being the “shepherd of the community”. His portrait is still very widely distributed, as in this abandoned palace that belonged to one of his relatives.
Fahad Al Salem Palace is one of the few historic residential complexes located in the heart of Kuwait City, a few meters from the seafront. In 2018, the government approved the transfer of the property to the Ministry of Health which provided for to demolish the complex and transform it into an extension of the parking lot for the Amiri hospital. As a good example of the conservation of Kuwait’s heritage, the NCCAL (Kuwait National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters) exercised power and right over the property and began the comprehensive restoration of the building there. is three years old.
The construction of the palace represents the typical architecture of Kuwait in the early 1950s; a period of modernity and flourishing Kuwait which benefited from oil revenues just after the first oil export in 1948.

The Kuwait Towers are the most important landmark on the Gulf Road in Kuwait. They were designed by Danish architect Malene Bjorn and inaugurated on February 26, 1977. The water is contained in a sculptural form that mimics traditional Arabian perfume containers. The project has become a symbol for the city and state of Kuwait with its huge spheres hanging from pointed towers.
A Diwaniah is a social event traditionally reserved for men that is still held very regularly in Kuwait. The term is a nod to the section of Bedouin tents dedicated to welcoming and entertaining their guests. In dedicated reception rooms or in their own homes, the hosts, often from large Kuwaiti families, receive numerous guests each week, offer tea, and discuss multiple subjects, both individual and collective. The Diwaniahs are the key to Kuwaiti social life but even more so to political and commercial negotiations, as they are a main source of introduction and strategic decisions. In this dynamic and for more than 250 years, the Diwaniah have promoted the development of Kuwait, in particular through rapid communication and the search for consensus in a formal and friendly framework.

Built in the 1950s, Fahad al-Salem Street was the first modern shopping street in the Gulf. Along the street, more than 30 concrete buildings had four floors of apartments and offered a variety of restaurants on the ground floor, as well as fabric stores and vendors of imported goods.
In the 1980s, buildings were quickly turned into commercial offices after being deemed unfavorable to life, and stores were abandoned for better locations and newer constructions.

In downtown Kuwait, the Al Sawaber complex is a sad example of what can happen to heritage conservation in the country. With more than 500 apartments, the 60-acre residential complex was demolished in 2019 at the request of the Ministry of Finance. Built in 1981, Al Sawaber was a relatively recent construction but originally built as a model of collective living, helping to shape the modernization of Kuwaiti architecture while incorporating ancestral techniques such as allowing privacy and protection from the harsh summer sun and sandstorms. Although local communities joined together in an attempt to save the resort by expressing their support and interest through social media for urban heritage, 70% of tenants were quickly evacuated and relocated soon after their efforts. The lack of maintenance and the increase in the value of the land eventually led to demolition although the government never expressed a clear vision for the future of the area. The complex has now completely disappeared and left a huge empty space in the heart of Kuwait City.
Mr. Gholom Jafar Mohammad Ashkanani owns one of the five remaining date shops in Mubarakiya, the traditional souk (street market) in Kuwait City. Due to the importance of dates for Kuwaitis, a whole space is dedicated to them in the middle of the souk. North of Kuwait City, Jahra Farms provide dates for the market but most of them are imported into Kuwait from Basra, Iraq, which was the 5th largest producer in 2018 with over 600,000 tonnes. Most of the time, sellers buy directly from Iraqi traders, but they can also work with traders called Qata’a. He explains that initially the most important customers for dates were Kuwaiti sailors who used dates as their main source of sustenance on trips to the Indian and African coasts, where they would trade or dive with them. pearls. The Bedouins were also important buyers as they visited the city regularly. Today, most people buy dates by the kilogram, and sometimes they are available in sealed pouches which allow for better preservation. Kuwaitis eat dates all year round, but especially during the holy month of Ramadan. Considered a traditional opener for breaking the fast at sunset, dates are eaten with milk, yogurt, porridge (Tahina) or used as the main ingredient of the traditional food mix called Tamryia, which consists of flour, d oil and nuts.

Abdullah Al Tamimi is the oldest seller in the market. He sells traditional dishes and casseroles which have become difficult to find in other stores as the demand has declined dramatically over the years.

Another example in the country, The House of Amin, a famous estate in the heart of Kuwait City, is now abandoned as three families claim ownership and the case has remained open for years due to its unique complexity. The roofs are deteriorating, but the house, built of concrete instead of traditional mud bricks, remains an important symbol of Kuwaiti heritage and innovation.
The souk is a symbol of the Middle Eastern way of life. Located in downtown Kuwait, the Mubarakiyeh Souq is essential for the preservation of the city’s heritage. Its history is represented there by the incredible diversity of trades and traditional Kuwaiti products, including dates, plates, spices, prayer necklaces, rugs and more.

Due to the wealth injected into the city by the oil industry, the labor force and cheap vendors usually consist of Egyptian and Iranian immigrants, making the souk one of the last places one can still meet and interact with Kuwaiti vendors.

About the Author: Jérôme Poulalier is a 34-year-old French photographer based in Lyon, working around the world (mainly in the Middle East, the United States and Europe). The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Eight years ago, after receiving the Nicolas Hulot Foundation prize awarded by PHOTO magazine, he made photography his full-time profession and has since worked on numerous photo projects. For the past few years, his work and artistic research have revolved around two dynamics: people and their environment. Different people, different environments, from the challenges of blindness in Texas to falcon hunting in Jordan, the place of technology in social relations (France), or the new spaces and lives of nomadic populations (Italy). You can find more of his work on his website.

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