Kuwait City: In Shumaymah, located in the north of Kuwait, lies an abandoned military building. Over the years, the building has attracted creatives as it was utilized as a space for photo shoots and was recently painted in bright colours.
Adding onto the existing infrastructure, a graffiti collective known as Al Maqsaf (the Arabic word for canteen), decided to further beautify the space and paint colourful graffiti pieces all around.
“Visual pollution in Kuwait is increasing, in every aspect from homes to buildings, which has a negative psychological impact on a person. So by adding graffiti and street art, we are hoping to enhance Kuwait’s visual landscape, have a positive effect on society and uplift public morale in general,” Ali Bloushi, a member of Al Maqsaf, told Gulf News.
Shumaymah was one of their latest projects, but the group is constantly searching for new canvases across the country.
“We stay away from the public places so we do not get into any trouble in regards to distorting public decency. Therefore, we focus on abandoned places, especially since it is usually run down so we try to add some aesthetic value that can improve it,” Bloushi pointed out.
In an effort to steer away from trouble, the majority of Al Maqsaf’s pieces are satirical and are built off of jokes, as they try to shy away from sensitive topics that could cause a backlash.
Combating visual pollution
In recent years, street art has been popping up around Kuwait and is becoming more widely accepted as a method of combating visual pollution.
“In the past three years, people have begun to appreciate graffiti more and we are being invited to participate in several projects and events,” Bloushi explained.
Another collective, Jedareyat (Arab word for murals), are also committed to enhancing Kuwait’s visual landscape as they work with the community members to replace misused walls with murals, while also encouraging creativity and art.
One of their most famous pieces, situated on the side of the National Council for Culture Arts and Letters (NCAAL), was painted over last month with white paint. The mural, completed in 2016, was created by Jedareyat and Lebanese street artist Jad El Khoury, after obtaining approval from the NCAAL.
Many took to social media to protest the removal of the mural, as many claimed the mural added beauty to the city.
The NCAAL responded in a statement and said that the, “removal of the mural was necessary to reserve the space or any other space that belong to the council with original Kuwaiti art.”
Street art or vandalism?
Although street art is gaining traction, many artists are wary about where and what they say to avoid legal repercussions. In order for a piece to not be labelled as ‘vandalism’, artists must acquire authorization from the Municipality, which many complain is a difficult and timely process.
Bloushi pointed out that some of the group’s members have had their pieces painted over, sometimes as quick as a day or two after they put them up.
A win for artists, in July, Kuwait’s Municipality announced that it will no longer take down any murals put up in public places as a way to encourage art and creativity.
Who are Al Maqsaf
Al Maqsaf is made up of three people, but their larger graffiti community is made up of around 15-20 people.
The group has been working together for two years, but the majority of the members have been involved in graffiti for a while.
Bloushi, an art teacher, was first introduced to graffiti in 2009, but started taking it more seriously in 2013.
“My education background only gave me a foundation, but I did most of my learning outside of college. I would reach out to other artists online on social media and watch YouTube videos,” Bloushi said.
While Al Maqsaf started out introducing graffiti to Kuwait’s streets, they have evolved into a brick and mortar that sells everything from spray paints to markers and paint.