By Nawara Fattahova
Sculpture carries a long tradition in Kuwait. Some local artists have been creating sculptures here since the 1960s and chief among them is the well known and widely respected Kuwaiti sculptor, Sami Mohammed. Two of his most important pieces are the bronze statues of Kuwait’s late rulers-Amir Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah and Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah.The story of these two statues began in 1970.
“The editor-in-chief of Al-Rai Al-Aam daily at that time, the late Abdulaziz Al-Msaeid, visited my studio in 1970 and asked me to make a statue of the late Amir Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem. I studied the personality of Abdullah Al-Salem, who was a great person who made huge achievements for Kuwait. I knew him since I was a child, as he toured our neighborhood and everyone loved him,” Mohammed told Kuwait Times.
“I translated this love in this sculpture. I tried to express the achievements in the statue, which made the piece more beautiful. We received the materials from Al-Msaeid and completed the statue in 11 to 12 months, as I was working on it from morning to evening. The statue was then cast in bronze in the United Kingdom. I first worked on the statue with clay, then moved to gypsum, and finally to bronze in the UK,” Mohammed recalled.
It was tough and expensive work and the process was long. The statue of the late Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Salem was also made in the same way as per Msaeid’s request. “I was young at that time, so I could work long hours. Now I can’t work on such huge statues as I can’t even climb. So I’m only doing small sculptures,” he said.
“After studying and traveling, I collected ideas and decided to focus on humans and their sufferings. I called the first sculpture I made in 1970 ‘The Hunger’, showing a woman hugging her baby. I was inspired by the famine in India at that time. I tried to express hunger and pain in this statue. I also try to highlight human rights issues in my artworks,” stressed Mohammed.
One of his favorite artworks is called ‘Break Through’.
“In this bronze statue, I show how a man breaks through a wall, but is shocked by a pillar in front of him that hits his face. This artwork expresses various issues including politics and social rights. It has great symbolism, and people outside Kuwait felt that it symbolizes repressive regimes. This statue represents a human trying to get out of one place but reaches someplace worse. Through this sculpture I tell people that they should not give up, no matter what their problems are, till they reach their desired goals,” he stated.
Each statue has a different story. Another special statue for Mohammed is the sculpture of a man hit by a car, with his damaged body covered with newspapers. “I called this statue ‘Off File Case’. It expresses how people don’t care about an injured man on the road, and this is what is really happening around the world,” noted Mohammed. Many of his artworks have attracted authors to use his art for the cover of their books. “A writer told me that the sculpture ‘Paralysis and Resistance’ encapsulates a library of freedom in one work. He said this statue summarizes hundreds of books. Also, the United Nations used the photo of this statue on one of their books,” he said.
To earn enough money to make statues, Mohammed used to paintings to buy the materials. “I was painting pictures of our environment, especially sadu weaving, and selling them.” People gradually became more interested in art. “The situation has changed from what it was in the 1950s, when there were only two or three artists. Before 1950, people didn’t have time to care for fine arts, as they were busy trying to secure their living needs, mainly through pearl diving and other activities. With the economic boom after the discovery of oil, people became more interested in fine arts, and the Free Art Atelier was established,” Mohammed told Kuwait Times.
At that time, the government started sending Kuwaiti students abroad on scholarships. “The number of artists increased, and I was one of them, along with Khalifa Al-Qattan, Eisa Al-Saqer, Khaz’al Awadh, Jassem Buhamad, Abdullah Al-Qassar and others. We then established the Kuwaiti Society for Fine Arts (KSFA),” he added. Today, the situation is different. “Kuwaiti artists today have more support from the government through the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters and KSFA, which provide some of the tools needed by the artists. Also, modern technology and social media allow young artists to learn online, while this wasn’t available in the past,” he explained.
“My artworks are for all people from all nations. I entice people to stand in front of my sculptures and not pass by quickly. I attract them through my ideas, materials, design and others. I remember at one of my exhibitions I saw a woman crying near my ‘Off File Case’ sculpture. She said it reminded her of a tragedy,” he concluded.