This report is based on the presentations and discussions during the UAE Security Forum 2019, “Reshaping the Future of the Horn of Africa,” held on December 12, 2019 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
In the cities of the Gulf states, white and unmarked walls are the standard. But in Kuwait, Jedareyat is doing something unusual and innovative: organizing local artists to paint colorful murals on buildings around the city. Aiming to combat visual pollution in Kuwait, Jedareyat is a volunteer group founded by Sulaiman Alrodhan in early 2016. The team, which also consists of Abdulaziz Alreshoud, Hind Francis, and Ameena Almutawa, scours the city and crowdsources for dead walls and artists who can transform them into picture-worthy landmarks. AGSIW spoke with Sulaiman about how the initiative works as a medium between building owners and artists, the messages the group hopes to portray through the murals, and the strong spirit of volunteerism that runs through the team’s work.
AGSIW: How did Jedareyat start?
Sulaiman: The idea started when I went to a meeting in a building owned by the Ministry of Social Affairs. I arrived early and was walking around and posting on Snapchat. I was complaining about what was written on the wall – vulgar terms and stuff you wouldn’t want to read. I tried to hide the bad language while Snapping. The pictures and videos I took reached the minister [Hind al-Sabeeh], she saw the sign that said that the building was owned by her ministry. She was my old boss and knows me well so she called me and asked about the building and wall. Instead of complaining to her about what I saw, I recommended to her that the ministry support those who have street art talent [to fix it]. She thought it was a good idea and said come to the ministry and apply to register a volunteering team to do the work. I said, “Sure!” While I was in the process of applying I looked for places to supply the paints, and looked for artists… I had collected six artists for the project. I called Hind, Aminah, and Abdulaziz and they said “Yallah, let’s do it.” Each of us took on a task and in a week we were ready to start painting. I held a social event; I called bloggers and artists and took pictures of the place and the artists started painting. I didn’t think it would become this big in such a short time. Once we started, newspapers, journalists, and cameras showed up and even the artists were saying: “We couldn’t believe someone would offer us all the supplies we need, and to draw on a wall!” I didn’t know it would become this big… after that artists started calling us saying we want to volunteer and join you.
AGSIW: You’ve done several more walls since then, how did the initiative grow from there?
Sulaiman: After that, we got a lot of publicity through our second project. The National Committee for Celebrations contacted us 10 days before Kuwait’s national day. They had a wall behind an exhibition that they were going to open for national day. I asked where the wall was and they said in Mubarikiya. It is a prime location – an old local market where all Kuwaitis go. I went over there and saw the wall – it was huge… I thought, oh no, why did I say I can do this in nine days? But I took the project; the team had a brainstorming session to come up with the theme. After this wall and the opening of the exhibit, the prime minister came for the opening and they started with the wall – it was a catchy mural and now it’s a landmark in Kuwait. You can see the wall from atop another building and from below.
After that, we got more interest in sponsorship and people offering to help us to grow. We are selective with our sponsorships because we want to deliver worthy messages to people. Right now, we are preparing for winter and we plan to do two walls each month.
AGSIW: Since you and the other members are not artists yourselves, what is it that motivates you to do this type of work?
Sulaiman: I believe that if everyone has a volunteering side to his life, we will live better lives. Abdulaziz and I were thinking before this, let’s volunteer for something… and we considered beach cleaning but everyone is doing that nowadays. Jedareyat happened by coincidence and it all happened in a week! What I see is visual pollution – it affects us without us noticing. When you paint something that is for everyone to see, it can have an impact on you without you realizing it. We feel like we are different than other volunteer groups and what motivates me personally is that I’m making a difference: It’s a dead wall, and I’m bringing life to a dead wall. That motivates me.
AGSIW: Tell us about the artists: How do you find them and what’s their reaction to having this as a platform for their work?
Sulaiman: We do a callout for a wall and the team creates and decides on a theme, depending on the place the location and the culture of the people who live there, then we sit with the artist based on the type of art they do and explain the theme we want. They give us a sketch and we approve of the sketch. Sometimes the owner of the building or wall will ask for the sketch, and once we have their approval we apply it.
Artists can leave their signature on the wall; they are creating landmarks and often use social media to popularize their work. Since Jedareyat started, many people approach us to paint their private walls and we link them to the artist. The money we are given as sponsorship is used on supplies for the murals, but eventually we would like to support artists with gifts but not money. We don’t want the culture of getting paid to be part of this because we want it to remain volunteer based, so if you want to join us, you can work with us and people will know your name and can approach you and we can link you with whomever wants to do something private.
AGSIW: Tell us about the themes you craft the murals around: Is there a political or social message underlying the theme you choose?
Sulaiman: Yes, the first theme we started with was “values.” The people who live in Qusoor are a bit traditional. We chose the “values” theme to reflect on how the wall was before and after – we wanted to change the vulgar terms. We told the artists to choose values that they believe in and paint. For example, one artist drew a woman wearing niqab with a cat and bird; the value behind this was kindness toward animals. Artists bring what they have in mind to reality.
The second mural was in Mubarikiya, which is a cultural place, so we chose historical figures from Kuwaiti art. The third was about oil and how it changed our lives; it gave us education, travel, and culture. [This mural came about during the oil crisis earlier this year] and prices had dropped so we drew the wall to deliver the message that if we don’t spend our money in a wise way we won’t have education, health, and the [cultural benefits]. We painted colors to signify a better future if we spent our money well.
AGSIW: The spirit of volunteerism seems to be a big motivator to you and the team, like a lot of Kuwaiti youth. Why is volunteering important to you?
Sulaiman: In Kuwait we complain a lot; not just in Kuwait but in the Arab world we complain and we don’t give solutions. If you see something wrong and you think you can change it, why not? Everything is doable. If you set a target to change something you can. But pursue it or at least take some steps.
After I started, I received many calls from governmental agencies asking me to work on their walls. The municipality actually asked me to do all the bridges in Kuwait. Once people try to do something it becomes easy. We need to offer solutions, even if we can’t execute them ourselves. Don’t wait for others. Give solutions and go for it. Don’t complain about the government. We got used to being spoiled by the government – if the government doesn’t want to do something, you should. Instead of complaining, I believe you volunteer to change the thing you are complaining about.
Follow Jedareyat on Instagram for updates on the team’s pursuit to beautify Kuwait’s cities.
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