Abolish Article 153; THE HUB, Kuwait City, Kuwait; April 16-23, 2018
Review by Antonia Stamos, Assistant Professor, American University of Kuwait
Detail of Stencils on Currency Note by NAB. Photo credit: Antonia Stamos
The fourth annual Abolish Article 153 exhibition opened at THE HUB Gallery in Kuwait City on April 16, 2018. The exhibition showcased artwork that addressed a Kuwaiti law that sanctifies the murder of female relatives if they are caught in an adulterous act and treats the murder as a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of three years’ jail time and/or a fine of 15KWD (about $50). The exhibition was used not only as a platform to raise awareness of this unjust penal code (which ignores Islamic Sharia), but also as a fundraiser to benefit women who appeal for legal, psychological, and financial help in order to escape their abusers, and to train first responders in gender abuse. Incidentally, the opening date of the exhibition also marked the thirteenth anniversary of the extension of full political rights to Kuwaiti women. Locally and internationally acclaimed exhibiting artists were joined by architecture students from Kuwait University as well as students from The Public Authority for Applied Education & Training.
Some examples of the more thought-provoking pieces were Stencils on Currency Note, by an artist identified only as NAB, and Just Married, by the Algerian artist L’Homme Jaune (Yasser Ameur). NAB’s piece invites controversy, as the portrayal of human figures on Kuwaiti bank notes—let alone those of females—is unheard of. Moreover, NAB depicts ordinary Muslim women, rather than females of note (excuse the pun), such as members of the royal family or women in GCC/Kuwaiti history. These are hijabi and niqabi women you might see on the street: someone’s mother or sister going about their everyday life… and possibly the next victim of the law. Meanwhile, women are personified as commodities in L’Homme Jaune’s Just Married; they are pretty dress-up dolls that are still hidden from the public male view.
My Fat Lady by Ghida Younes is a light and fun piece that addresses, in five frames, issues related to a woman’s body image. A curvaceous, faceless female reminiscent of the “Venus” of Willendorf is depicted breaking the chains that bind her; sitting on a giant wrecking ball (à la Miley Cyrus?) either demolishing the state of Kuwait surrounding the number 153 or promoting “Woman Power” as she sways to and fro; posing in a teeny-tiny bikini and holding a scimitar, confronting a tiny military power; and balancing the world on her toes as she swings through the air as a gloriously voluptuous acrobat. Younes clearly pokes fun at both the need to remove the unjust treatment allowed by Kuwait’s Article 153 as well as societal restrictions placed on women.
The exhibition was accompanied by a 61-page catalog giving a short description of the exhibition itself, an account of how proceeds from any sales were to be used, and insight into the creation of some of the artworks on display along with accompanying images (Abolish Article 153, Art Collector’ Edition, Kuwait: Abolish Article 153, 2018). More information on the Abolish Article 153 movement can be found at: http://abolish153.org.
Antonia Stamos is an art historian by day and an archaeologist the rest of the time. She moved to Kuwait to teach Art History at the American University of Kuwait (AUK) in 2011. Antonia received her Ph.D. in Art History from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2006.