NATIONAL MUSEUM OF KUWAIT – DAR AL-ATHAR AL-ISLAMIYYAH – a trans-generational refuge for culture across space & time inside and outside Kuwait

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KUWAIT CITY, Dec 3: As part of the lectures scheduled for the 23rd Annual Cultural Season, the Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at Kuwait University Dr Hassan Ashkanani gave a lecture titled “Remembrance” to mark the 60th anniversary (Diamond Jubilee) of the establishment of the National Museum of Kuwait, and 35th anniversary of the inception of Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah (DAI).

The event was held at the Yarmouk Cultural Center on November 27 in the presence of the Secretary General of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters (NCCAL) Eng Ali Al-Youha, the honorary Chairperson of Bait Al-Sado Sheikha Altaf Salem Al-Ali and Dr Zeyad Tareq Al-Rajab.

The objective of Dr Ashkanani’s lecture was to narrate the story of the inception and pioneering activities of both National Museum of Kuwait since 1957 and Dar Al-Athar Al-Islammiyah since its inception in 1983.

The lecture was based on a variety of methodologies including archive study, personal interviews and comparison with materials found in newspapers and magazines in order to highlight the pioneering role of National Museum of Kuwait and Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah as academic and scientific establishments that continue to contribute in enhancing cultural knowledge for various generations, both inside and outside Kuwait.

Dr Ashkanani started his lecture by describing in brief his longstanding relationship with DAI since his childhood.

He said the objective of his research is to continue to contribute in understanding the historical dimensions and heritage of this country as well as that of other parts of the world where he had a chance to contribute through his work.

Dr Ashkanani explained that he obtained his passion for antiques from DAI and went on to pursue that passion in service to Kuwaiti history, antiques and heritage. In 2009, he came across an original old photograph in Beirut which showed one of the corners of the National Museum of Kuwait.

He described the three stages that the museum went through – its inception at Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah’s palace in Dasman (1957-1976), the transitional period in Bader’s House (1976-1983) and then to its current location since 1983.

Dr Ashkanani presented about 3,800 archived scientific artifact materials and the results achieved from them, indicating that more will be revealed as study of them progresses.

In brief, he revealed the scientific methods he used to collect the data and information. He also revealed about the challenges he faced in arranging the materials and information he had chronologically.

“The history of the museum is embedded in the comprehensive renascence that happened in Kuwait particularly during the reign of the late Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah (1950-1965)”, Dr Ashkanani said.

Records show that the first building to host the museum was an administration building in Dasman area, belonging to Sheikh Khaz’al bin Jaber bin Merdaw Al-Ka’bi (1863-1936). This historic building was bought and transformed into a palace by the first Minister of Education of Kuwait Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Sabah later transformed part of the palace into a museum—the National Museum of Kuwait—which was officially opened on December 31, 1957.

The museum mostly contained traditional antiques which represented the Kuwaiti environment. In 1958, some of the antiques discovered by the Danish archeological team in Failaka Island were added to the museum’s collection. Most of these antiques dated back to the Bronze Age and Hellenistic period.

In 1976, the museum went through a transition represented by the relocation of its collections to one of Kuwait’s old houses, the Bader’s House, which served as a temporary headquarter of the museum, in Al-Qibla area overlooking the Arabian Gulf Sea.

The construction of the Bader’s House was completed in 1837. Its architectural structure depicted the social, economic and civilization aspects that prevailed in the Kuwaiti society in that century. It was incorporated by the Department of Antiquity and Museum in 1968.

On February 23, 1983, the National Museum of Kuwait was opened at its current location, and this also marked the inception of Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah (DAI).

Dr Ashkanani affirmed that the National Museum of Kuwait, since its third birth, has continued with its role to capture and represent the culture, tradition and heritage of Kuwaitis, adding that it is regarded as a cultural establishment that reflects the history and civilization of this country.

Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah continues to attract attention from across the globe. This cultural organization is based around the private art collection owned by Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, founder of The Al-Sabah Collection, and his wife, DAI Director General and co-founder Sheikha Hussa Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah.

In general, the museum is divided into seven sections. In the first section, the artifacts found during an archaeological dig in Failaka Island are displayed. The second section is concerning the marine life. The third section depicts the old ways of Kuwaitis’ lives and has pictures that date back to 1942 of typical Kuwaiti houses. The fourth section has artifacts of what Kuwait was like during the 1940s and 1950s (Bedouin life).

The other sections include a planetarium and a fine arts exhibition as well as the most popular of all, the Al-Sabah Collection in DAI, which has grown from a single-focus organization that was created to manage the loan of the prestigious Al-Sabah Collection of art from the Islamic world to the State of Kuwait, into an internationally-recognized cultural organization.

According to Dr Ashkanani, the advancements that took place on various aspects such as politics, education, construction, culture and economy in the 1950s and 1960s were documented.

However, as it appears, no one documented on Kuwait’s advancement in museology or establishment of the museum, which was regarded as a unique aspect at that period of time.

Nonetheless, the reign of the late Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem witnessed a major quality transformation in the concept of culture with respect to fine arts, literature and poetry. This had led to the establishment of the museum. In fact, the National Museum of Kuwait is considered as the first museum in the Arabian Gulf region.

Since then, it has continued to receive governmental and high-profile support. This goes back to the time of late Kuwait Amir Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem who had requested experts from Denmark’s Moesgaard Museum to examine archeological antiques in Failaka, and the establishment of the Department of Antiquity and Museum.


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