For a country of such small size, Kuwait boasts a very broad and rich culture, containing a particular heritage and encompassing certain trends whose roots are embedded in the cultural traditions of antiquity. Kuwait holds a strong tie to its past, and the government takes pride in its assistance in the retaining of historical artifacts and antiques, as well as in the preservation of the arts and modern cultural endeavors.
Today, Kuwaiti society bases much of its culture on the country's ancient folklore, which is a broad-ranging mosaic of emblematic land and sea tales, riddles, and proverbs. In 1956, the Folklore Preservation Center was established in an attempt to collect, record, and classify Kuwaiti folklore, as a way of assuring that this piece of Kuwait's historical culture will forever be maintained and hold a prominent place in the traditions of today.
National Council for Culture, Arts, and Letters
In 1974, the National Council for Culture, Arts, and Letters was founded, as the country's first real, definitive organization for cultural planning, with the task of promoting, developing, and enriching intellectual and artistic production. The council provides a suitable environment for the enhancement of the arts within Kuwait, and is responsible for disseminating news and information about the fine arts, as well as for the preservation and study of the country's national heritage. To contact the Council, click here.
Kuwaiti culture embodies a variety of different modes of art and expression. The one feature that truly exemplifies Kuwait's creative tendencies is the architecture that can be found all over the country: from the city, to the oceanfront palaces and government buildings, to the smaller, but no less extravagant, suburban areas. The main characteristic feature of this architecture is the same quality that can be used to describe almost all aspects of Kuwaiti life and culture: it is a mix of old and new, traditional and modern, modest and extravagant. Few houses and buildings remain today that are authentic examples of the original architecture of Kuwait. However, the few that are still standing, such as the Bayt Al-Bader, are nonetheless excellent examples of structures Kuwaitis used to live and work in around 150 years ago.
The traditional Kuwaiti house consisted of a central courtyard, with a series of rooms built around this quad. These houses were usually simple in structure, but were heavily adorned with ornaments, paintings and mosaics. Today, some people still try to build their houses based on this original design. However, the trend in Kuwaiti architecture today seems to be to strive for the more unique and more intricate designs. Houses vary in dimension according to family size, and each family has their own tastes and desires. Because of this, it is difficult to attribute one single, definitive characteristic to these houses. This same notion also goes for the non-residential architecture.
Kuwait exhibits some of the most impressive modern buildings in the world, with such examples as the Ministry of Justice building, and the National Assembly building . Another masterpiece of architecture in Kuwait is the Grand Mosque. One of the largest and most modern of its kind, the mosque follows traditional Islamic styles along with the local architecture of Kuwait and the Gulf region, and is liberally decorated with Islamic designs and calligraphy both inside and out. Click Here for more information on the Grand Mosque.
The Kuwait Towers, the national symbol of the land, can be seen from most angles within Kuwait City and the areas around it, and are comprised of three towers. The largest tower holds two large, globe shaped chambers, one on top of the other. The top, and smaller, one is an observation deck with a cafeteria that gives the visitor a full panoramic view of Kuwait City and the Arabian Gulf every half hour. The top half of the lower, and larger, sphere houses three rotating restaurants, while the bottom half is a one million-gallon water reservoir. The second tower holds one large globe, which is another water reservoir with a one million-gallon capacity. The third structure is simply a long, pointed electricity tower, which illuminates the other two towers and the surrounding grounds with 96 concealed spotlights. The Kuwait Towers are recognized all over the world as being the dominant sight in Kuwait.
Kuwait has about 50 different locations where the arts and antiquities are housed and preserved. The most prominent of these is the Kuwait National Museum, which was opened in December 1957. The main objective for this museum was, and still is, to represent the various aspects of Kuwait's cultural life and heritage, and to display the country's history and civilization. The museum houses much of the country's antiquities, and also exhibits collections of different forms of contemporary art. Besides having a lecture hall and library, the museum also provides the public with a sophisticated planetarium, with old and modern astronomical devices, maps, and manuscripts. Kuwait has several other, smaller museums as well. One example is the Tareq Rajab Museum, which was originally built and run privately by the Rajab family. Open to the general public since 1980, the museum houses a host of Islamic art and artifacts, ranging from poetry and glass work, to musical instruments and jewelry.
The Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah (The Museum of Islamic Arts) has a collection of more than 20,000 items of rare Islamic works, dating back twelve centuries to the rise of Islam. It also contains a specialized library of several thousand books in different languages on Islamic history and heritage. This collection belongs to Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah and his wife Sheikha Hussa Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, who personally preside over the administration of the museum. In addition, the museum holds exhibitions, lectures, training sessions for tour guides, and applied art training in pottery and ornaments making.
One of the most prominent forms of art that can be found in Kuwaiti museums is Bedouin art. The best example of this can be found in the Al-Sadu House, established to preserve the traditional handicraft of "sadu", which is the manufacturing and decoration of textiles made out of sheep wool. Click Here for more detailed information on Sadu Weaving.
Music and Dance
Traditional music in Kuwait is another reflection of the country's diverse heritage. As a trading and pearling center, Kuwait attracted foreigners who left their music with the inhabitants, while the Kuwaiti traders brought back music from East Africa and India. The result was a rich, varied sound full of vitality. Click Here for more information on the unique quality of the traditional music of Kuwait.
Traditional dance is another form of cultural art that is important in Kuwait. The Ardah dance involves the use and skill of the sword, accompanied by the rhythm of drums and poetry reading. The Samri, Khamari , and tanboura are all dances and traditions that are performed at family and social gatherings, and weddings.
The Formative Arts
The formative arts in Kuwait have reached a new level of international recognition, and the country has established its own Society for Formative Arts. Several Kuwaiti artists have held exhibitions of their work both locally and abroad. The origins of this genre of art can be traced back to 1959, when the formative arts were first introduced into Kuwaiti schools. Today, it exemplifies the government's involvement in the preservation of the arts; it is supported by the Ministries of Information, Social Affairs, and Labor, as well as by the National Council for Culture, Arts, and Letters. The State also attempts to patronize the arts by designating ten thousand Kuwaiti Dinars annually for the selection and purchase of paintings by Kuwaiti artists.
Theater is yet another mode of culture and art that is celebrated in Kuwait. Kuwaiti drama troupes have won numerous prizes and awards all over the world, and several theatrical companies exist throughout the country. Some examples of these are the Gulf Theater, the Popular Theater, and the Kuwaiti Theater. In 1973, the Ministry of Information established the Higher Institute for Theatrical Arts to prepare future artists in the field of theatrical arts and ethics, and to promote widespread theatrical awareness and appreciation.
Kuwait has a large variety of customs and traditions, and this gives rise to a colorful and extensive culture. The government does what it can to preserve these customs, and the result of this conservation is a clear and distinct Kuwaiti cultural identity.