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Al-Sawaber: Alternative narratives by Zahra Al-Mahdi


Sawaber is a story. Or rather multitudes of stories. The hope and ambition of a young country building affordable housing for its citizens.

The story of its transformation from individual family residences and community into bachelor worker flats crammed with 10 to 12 people in one apartment.

A story of crime and suspicion. Of urban decay. Al Sawaber is the story of a failed social and housing experiment, a complex doomed to demolition. But also the story of a complex of unique, unusual buildings that have captured the imagination and hearts of generations of locals and residents.

One young artist, Zahra Al-Mahdi, adds another layer of story to the infamous Al- Sawaber complex. In her recent solo exhibition, Al-Mahdi explores the idea of stories without endings and the complexities of abandonment

“I have received many analyzes from people, I respect them all, because my personal opinion is no better than the opinions of others, but I will tell you the story as I visualize it; there were two creatures in the form of human beings, they look like human females. They fell asleep into a cocoon at Sawaber. Then, three different ending scenarios emerged from the story. One, is when the towers of Sawaber suddenly multiplied in front of them. The second was when everything started to disappear around Sawaber, the stratosphere, the atmosphere, while meteorites shooting the planet. Meanwhile the third scenario shall be life on earth finished, the planet is divided into two halves and the isthmus appears. Three Different faces of abandonment,” Al-Mahdi explained.

These symbolic endings raise several questions, what after and to whom? Mahdi also wanted to prove another theorem in the rendering of art in general, saying: “I believe that even artworks are never finished. They are simply abandoned by the artist. Sometimes when you abandoned something, someone else picks it up and gives it a new meaning,” she added. Al-Mahdi believes that there’s nothing really wrong with things being demolished. From a space of hope for many families who needed a secure place to live, a decent community and a safe environment where people could hang out and the kids could play, Al-Sawaber has changed to become a place of suspicion and poor reputation.

Today, everyone cares about it, contributing new meaning and adding to its story. It’s creating a strong attachment from us to Kuwait. Al- Mahdi concluded: “When it comes to memory and forgetfulness, there’s so much in effect that’s coming from forgetting, because it changes how evaluate the things around us.”


By Athoob Al-Shuaibi


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