by Amani Al Thuwaini
  • 3 minute read
  • April 21, 2022
Kuwaiti-Ukrainian Artist Amani Al Thuwaini On Art, Her Bicultural Identity

I was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine in 1989 when my father was still pursuing his studies at the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute. With my father hailing from Kuwait and my mother from Ukraine, I always turned to art to make sense of both my worlds—addressing the inner conflict of my bicultural identity and exploring my sense of belonging.

My childhood was filled with visual stimulation, and I took great interest in the folk art that dressed the pages of Soviet stories and fairy tale books. I used to enjoy drawing with my grandmother and also on my own for hours before everyone else in the house would wake up. I realised my love of art at a young age.

Amani Al Thuwaini at her studio in Kuwait. Photography by Aidan Brooks

Over the years, I’ve channelled my understanding of historical and cultural traditions, particularly those of the Middle East, into my oeuvre, lending a special focus on how they’ve transformed amidst consumerism and globalisation. Having lived in Ukraine till the age of six, travelling the world, and later seeking my architectural training in Kuwait and MFA from Goldsmiths, University of London in 2017, I developed a holistic understanding of social constructs.

My research includes extensive field work, interviews, and documentation of cultural setups. Working with people from different backgrounds is integral to my creative process. In 2016, I began researching weddings and the history of dowries (dazza) in Kuwait and how they’ve evolved into a hybrid branded form. In my dowry series, each installation represents a type of dazza vessel. My main focus has been on how dazza has changed in form over the years, especially in light of luxury trends and trade.

“My work puts things that we usually take for granted under a magnifying lens and aims at celebrating the beauty of our culture.”

For instance, dowry in Kuwait was once given in a pouch of coins, followed by a bundle of Indian fabrics due to prevalent trade with India, and then as a wooden chest that was also imported from the country. This tradition kept evolving until it became less about the craft and preciousness of the vessel, and more about the commodities inside, such as branded perfumes and other expensive gifts.

I created the Codes of Conduct installation as a depiction of fabrics in dowry form, featuring Indian textiles sewn together to form the shape of a bundle, with a wooden tray underneath that represents hospitality and splendour that surround the process of sending dazza for the bride.

Codes of Conduct. Stitched and padded Indian fabrics, laser engraving on plywood, tray handles. 94x63x6.5cm. Photography by Aidan Brooks and courtesy of Contemporary Art platform, Kuwait.

The Elibelinde installation is a tufted rug representing the ceremonial event of sending the bundle of fabrics to the bride’s house. Elibelinde, meaning ‘hand on hips’, is a motif used in kilims (flat woven rugs), showcasing fertility and motherhood in matriarchal traditions. The artwork features a woman carrying the buqsha or bundle of fabrics on her head, behind which appears the Cinderella carriage that references how the bride and groom will live happily ever after.

One of my recent works is titled Staged, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at Kuwaiti weddings. Inspired by Islamic miniature art with a distorted perspective, it features gold and greyscale figures, glorifying everyone who works at a wedding. My work puts things that we usually take for granted under a magnifying lens and aims at celebrating the beauty of our culture, whilst questioning that which needs to be questioned.

Staged. Embroidery on linen, four panels. 132x111cm. Photography by Aidan Brooks and courtesy of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Cultural Centre, Kuwait City.

My interest in wedding traditions also led me to launch Dazza Lab in Kuwait, a design agency that specialises in bespoke dowry vessels that can be used as furniture pieces after the event. Through my mixed media artworks, I attempt to evoke a multisensorial response in viewers from different backgrounds, who perceive the cultural iconography in unique ways. And that, for me, is my greatest accomplishment as an artist.

Visit and follow @Amanialthuwaini on Instagram

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