Fine Artist Yahya Swilam: The journey of a Kuwait lover and a Messenger of its art

Painting life & coloring his Dreams!

The fine artist Yahya Swilam is considered one of the great artists who have been contemporary with the fine art in Kuwait and those who have contributed and played a role in spreading it, and that through organizing exhibitions out of his work at the Boushahri Art Gallery and the National Council for Culture, Arts and Literature.

Yahya Swilam studied decoration at the Faculty of Applied Arts in Cairo in 1960, and it was a mother domain at the time seeing that it combined several specialties, including graphics, advertising design, mural photography (mosaic and fresco), and stained glass. He holds a postgraduate degree in folk arts and has won the first prize in engraving from the Kuwait Fine Arts Association in 1976.

Immediately after graduation, he worked for two years in Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, where he studied Islamic art, and organized his first exhibition after graduation at Atelier Cairo. This exhibition attracted the top fine artists in Egypt who were keen to visit it. And because his works were spectacular, the republic of Egypt granted him the state encouragement award and by that he became the youngest artist in his generation to hold this prize (20 years), and critics described his exhibition and paintings as “unconventional and not copying anyone.”

Moving to Kuwait

In 1967 at the age of 23, he moved to Kuwait, where he worked as a teacher for 14 years. In addition, he exhibited his works at Sultan Gallery for its owners Ghazi and Najat Sultan. He organized two exhibitions, the last of which was in 1980. Yahya Swilam says: “Sultan Gallery was the most important gallery in Kuwait and the Arab world at the time, and its goal was to be a messenger of Arab art in the world.”

After leaving teaching, he joined the Boushahri Company, specifically the department of image service and design. After establishing the Boushahri Hall in 1981, he became responsible of organizing exhibitions: the first one included photographers’ works, then the hall expanded to exhibit fine artists’ works. “The Boushahri Gallery is the only gallery that has uninterruptedly ran on since 1981 and is interested in Kuwaiti and Arab artists, friends and foreigners. It has hosted works for artists from Turkey, India, Bulgaria, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, that is why we have built friendships from all around the world and Boushahri gained a good reputation”, said Yahya Swilam.

After the invasion, the National Council for Culture, Arts and Literature offered him a job. He first worked in the Fine Arts Department and designed publications. He also organized several events, including fine art exhibitions inside and outside Kuwait for local, Arab and international artists. This contributed in building an artistic bridge between Kuwait and the world. In addition to all that, he wrote a book entitled “Features of Fine Art in Kuwait” and another one entitled “Spring Exhibitions”, which used to be organized annually and lasted for several years.

Since his graduation, Yahya Swilam is deeply connected to art despite the fact that he stayed away from painting for long, however he was always in contact with drawings and fine artists through editing an art page (Atelier) in Al Qabas newspaper and Sawt newspaper after that. He owns a number of paintings for Mahmoud Saeed, Abdul Hadi Al-Jazzar, Saif Wanli, Fateh Al-Moudarres, Amin Al-Basha, Fatima Al-Hajj and others.

Art scene

Yahya Swilam describes the fine art movement in Kuwait as a pioneer in the GCC countries: it occupies a distinguished position in the Arab world. The creativity of Kuwaiti artists has evolved with the development of life, so the awareness regarding fine arts in Kuwait has increased, and the governmental institutions as well as some public benefit associations contributed in developing the fine movement that was present in the cultural scene and during the cultural weeks organized by Kuwait in many Arab and foreign countries.

Yahya Swilam sees that the movement of fine art was active and prosperous in the seventies, whereas it started in Kuwait in the Renaissance era, and with it, the interest in literature and arts increased and the focus was on how developing the art movement, including theater, cinema, television, music, arts and museums. In the field of fine arts, the National Council for Culture, Arts and Literature, the Kuwait Fine Arts Association and the Arab Fund were considered among the most important supporters of the movement in Kuwait. As for the State, it used to express great attention to fine arts, and worked on sending artists abroad to improve their talents thus expanding their knowledge and apprehension.

“Encouraged by the director of education at the time, Abdul Aziz al-Hussein, there were missions that teach art and from which the most important names in the world of Kuwait fine art graduated among which Hamid Khazaal and Abdullah Al-Qassar”, said Swilam.

He adds: “The good thing in Kuwait is that it appreciates the value of art and is open to others. From here, the idea of my exhibition “Arab works in Kuwaiti houses” came out, especially that people were rushing to acquire paintings exhibited in art galleries and created by top artists who began their career in Kuwait”.

Swilam highlights the importance of the role of state institutions especially the national banks in the acquisition of artistic collections or belongings considered assets and profitable investment.

Women’s Art Movement

Swilam underlines the fact that the fine art movement today is dynamic and great, but what is sad is that people are less attending exhibitions because of their many preoccupations and the social pressures that made art a second choice and not a priority. However, what brings joy is seeing some women breaking into the field of fine art and managing to compete with men, and even in some cases beating them. From the most important names, he cites Samar Al Rasheed Al Badr, Mai Al Saad, Amira Behbehani, Dad Al Mutawa and Ghada Al Kandari and others.

Although fine art includes many schools, including the abstract and the classic ones, Yahya Swilam refuses to divide art into several schools on the grounds that art is an integral process and not multiple schools.

Woman

The woman occupies an important place in Yahya Swilam paintings. In his drawings he seems deeply influenced by how she is the basis of each society, the maker of generations, the mother, the sister, the wife and the daughter.

Despite his great love for the artist Omar Najdi, Yahya Swilam was able to draw his own art path away from being influenced by the work of any artist or cloning and imitating anyone, that is why we see in his paintings a school of art that bears a lot of appreciation for the values and status of women in the society.

Obstacles

As for the current obstacles that are delaying the return of art to its old progress, prosperity and leadership, Yahya Swilam states that the obstacles lie in the artist himself, especially that the government never failed to encourage art, offer opportunities, monitor financial and literary awards, organize many exhibitions and offer foreign missions, the thing that is not available in any other country.

Yahya Swilam says that media is somehow responsible: it neglects the matter of publishing all the fine art activities. As for the press, it only highlights the works without getting into details or analyzing. This is due to the absence of professional fine art critics. All we see is a personal judgment and some private opinions that lack study and knowledge. “There is no room for fine art criticism in the press, radio or television, there are no fine art critics, and unfortunately when there were attempts to refresh the existence of this movement by creating a critic page it was aborted for no reason”.

Critics’ movement

Analytical criticism, according to Yahya Swilam, is a link between the artist and the receiver. The problem is that criticism is not always positive and the artist here takes each criticism personally and this is by nature in the Arab world, we don’t love criticism, although it can help us develop in order to offer the best. Even when a critic appears and starts writing, it is as if he is declaring war against the artist because the latter believes that the critic writes for a purpose and this has happened with many, such as Mohammed Al Mahdi and others.

Yahya Swilam confirms that there is no fine art criticism in Kuwait, describing this matter as a catastrophe, especially that art progresses when there is a critical movement, because serious fine art criticism prevents confusion, and helps the audience differentiate between authentic and fake artworks.

Swilam considers that a fine art critic should have studied art, be familiar with the history and stages of art, and be in contact with everything that happens in relation thereto locally and internationally. He should be fully dedicated to criticism and have a sensitive eye that measures the value of every work.

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