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Lockdown gave artists more time to work on pieces at home: Grand Mosque Art Consultant

KUWAIT: Fareed Al-Ali, Art Consultant at the Grand Mosque.

By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Kuwaiti professionals are interviewed by Kuwait Times to learn more about the nature of their jobs, and changes and challenges they have faced during the pandemic. The following are excerpts from Kuwait Times’ interview with Fareed Al-Ali, Art Consultant at the Grand Mosque.

Kuwait Times: How is your daily work amidst the coronavirus pandemic? Are you still going to work daily?
Fareed Al-Ali: So many people are complaining about the lockdown and curfew because of the pandemic, but for me as an artist, this is a good time to spend at home since I have lots of things to do. Normally you wouldn’t see me in the house because I would be very busy.

Now I have a lot of time to do calligraphy at home and arrange everything in the house – boxes and books I have in the library. I am also readying Islamic art projects I am planning after the pandemic. I can see the coronavirus will be a thing of the past soon. I go to work as well. I am enjoying the new timings.

A calligraphy artwork by Fareed Al-Ali.

Kuwait Times: Tell us about your work at the Grand Mosque.
Al-Ali: I started working at the Grand Mosque in 2005. Our workload is less now because we cannot hold activities or gatherings. We hold virtual art expos, but these are not as good as actual exhibitions where you can see and feel the details of the artworks. But we have to do this so that our creativity is not affected. Before the pandemic, we used to have lots of activities – exhibitions, workshops, conventions, lectures, Quran recitation competitions, cultural weeks and expos within and outside Kuwait.

Kuwait Times: Some people are comparing this pandemic to the Great Depression and World Wars. How do you view it?
Al-Ali: In war, you know who your enemies are, who you are fighting against. We cannot see the virus, we are all in danger and we are all in the same boat – anxious and uneasy, because we don’t know when the virus is going to strike us. This is not a normal virus; there’s no medicine for it and it will take time to find the cure for this virus. We don’t know when the pandemic is going to end.

In war, we normally come together to fight as one and win the battle, but against this virus, we are told to stay at home and maintain a distance from one another to stay healthy. In war, we fight using many weapons, fighter jets and missiles, but against the coronavirus, we are only reliant on a vaccine. At this stage, not all countries around the world have the vaccine and are still waiting for doses to arrive. Thank God we have vaccines here in Kuwait.

Years of hard work
Kuwait Times: You are a well-known calligrapher in Kuwait. Was this your passion/hobby? When did you start?
Al-Ali: To perfect your style and calligraphic instinct, it takes years of hard work and labor. I’ve been doing this now for the past 45 years. I develop my skills because I love it. I started when I was a child. I love calligraphy and want to impart this knowledge and art throughout the world. I still feel calligraphy done by hand is the best of all. You can see individuality and personal touch. It’s natural.

Kuwait Times: After graduating from university, which path did you pursue?
Al-Ali: When I finished college, I immediately started working as an architect – that was my degree at the university. My hobby then took me to calligraphy. I worked at the Municipality, the engineering department at the ministry of public works, the army and the ministry of defense’s art department until I retired. I am working as an art consultant at the ministry of awqaf at the Grand Mosque until now.

I am happy with my achievements before and now, and all the activities by the ministry of awqaf to promote Islamic art, not just in Kuwait but all over the world. I am happy to create things which nobody dares to do.

Kuwait Times: Tell us about your family.
Al-Ali: My parents helped me to be of service to Islamic art. They were my source of strength at that time and very helpful. My parents have a very special place in my heart – they are the reason where I am now. They bought all the tools for me to be a good calligrapher and artist. My wife and children are very supportive too. My wife is very artistic – sometimes she shows me something I wasn’t able to see.

Kuwait Times: What was the outcome of your virtual calligraphy expo last year with participation by hundreds of calligraphers from all over the world?
Al-Ali: The international virtual art calligraphy exhibition which we held during the onset of the pandemic was very successful. It was the biggest expo in the world at that time.

The message of the expo was that Allah will help us continue with our lives. Everything bad will come to pass. More than 103 calligraphers joined from all over the world to make this expo possible and 340 artworks were submitted. We achieved the goal of the exhibition I am very thankful to everyone who participated and visited our virtual expo.

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