The older generations of Kuwaitis speak of ‘the good old days’ when Kuwait was simplier and more in touch with its cultural roots. Prior to the discovery of oil in 1930s, Kuwait was a thriving port for trade and an epicenter of pearl diving and fishing. The heart of Kuwait’s heritage is embedded deep within the Arabian Gulf through the collective memories of generations of seafares and divers.
As part of the Al-Qurain Festival (Mahrajan Al-Qurain), the Kuwait Maritime Museum was opened to the public for the first time since the completion of its renovation on January 10, 2010. The museum is part of the Sharqia School which is located in Kuwait City opposite of Souq Sharq. On opening day there was a high turnout including all those involved in the project, representatives of the government, and onlookers keen to be the first visitors to set foot in the museum.
The opening ceremony began with displays of folk maritime music followed by mementos and letters of gratitude given to the people involved in the museum’s creation. Amongst those those recognized were Dawood Al-Qattan, the architect, Maher Yazigi, the contractor, and Dr. Yacoub Haji, the person who’s knowledge and perseverance made the museum possible.
Sharqia school was originally built circa 1930 and was the first boys’ school in Kuwait. Later, the school’s gymnasium was retrofited to become Kuwait’s first Maritime Museum in 2005. The museum’s main purpose is to examine the relationship between the sea, Kuwait’s inhabitants and how the two were dependant on each other. The museum project was intitiated and completed by the National Council for Culture, Arts, and Literature, Kuwait.
The renovation of the museum was designed and coordinated by local Architect Dawood Al-Qattan whose design was intended to reflect the ‘solitude’ seafarers must have felt at sea when being far away from family in a desolate environment. To the visitors, “The idea of the design was to appeal through acoustics and tactile senses while creating a strong contrast between the exhibited artifacts and the exhibition space. The raw elements encountered at sea and bare shipbuilding techniques are expressed in the exposed and unfinished construction materials.”
Visually, the Maritime Museum is a collage of raw, unrefined materials including an exposed concrete floor, exposed I-beams with large overd stainless steel bolts, unpainted wood decking, and exposed lights. A mezzanine in the centre of the display area, constructed of steel beams and a wooden deck, gives the impression of being on a boat, inessence, it is a deconstruction of the seafarere’s experience into a series of referential objects.
Albeit a short tour to cover the entire museum, the contents of the displays are rich with information. The aesthetic design of the museum is focused towards enhancing the experience rather than being a neutral background, providing a truly unique setting. The Maritime Museum is an accolade to Kuwait’s history and a lesson to younger generations of Kuwaitis about their roots.