Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Between East and West

Between East and West: A Gulf
Muneerah Alrabe (Editor)
Actar, March 2019

Paperback | 8-1/2 x 10-1/2 inches | 240 pages | English/Arabic | ISBN: 978-1945150784 | $34.95

Publisher's Description:
Between East and West: A Gulf looks towards the contested hydrography of the Arabian/Persian Gulf and proposes a new masterplan for the region.
In an area of physical, religious, and political division, the publication tells the story of the Gulf ’s islands and the possibilities they hold for a joint territorial project.

Hundreds of islands dot the waters between the Arabian and Persian shores. An afterthought in the political maneuverings of their respective coasts, tell an alternative narrative to the one which drives conceptions of the region. They represent a possibility greater than spaces of political contestation and hesitant demarcation. These islands are the sites of identity in formation, places of experimentation and architectural invention. Their historical roles were as varied as places of leisure, spirituality, planning, war, exile, and health.

The book was an accompaniment to the third Kuwaiti participation at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia 2016 with a pavilion that shares the same title.
dDAB Commentary:
I'm a big fan of books that accompany exhibitions. When I'm actually able to see an exhibition at a museum or some other venue, the catalog serves as a souvenir but also a means to absorb information and points of view I missed in what was most likely a too-brief visit. For visits I don't see in person, books on exhibitions enable me to reap something from the enormous amounts of time and effort that went into both the exhibition and catalog. In both cases, these books extend the life of an exhibition well beyond its initial run.

The Venice Architecture Biennale must produce the most catalogs of any architecture exhibitions. There's the massive book that goes along with the main exhibition (in the case of Rem Koolhaas's Elements of Architecture, the publication was repackaged in a new design four years after the first), catalogs accompanying the many collateral events around the city and those for the numerous national pavilions. Some of the last two are available for free during the Biennale (I have a hard time resisting those, though my back and luggage require me to be picky), though Kuwait opted for a Koolhaas approach and released a second edition: Between East and West documents the country's 2016 pavilion but came out two years later.

Now three years later, I'll admit I didn't recall Kuwait's 2016 pavilion, partly because it was squeezed into the Arsenale alongside other countries that don't have expensive purpose-built pavilions in the Giardini, and partly the Biennale overwhelms, making it hard to absorb most of it. So the bilingual catalog is helpful in jarring my memory. It is beautifully designed, with a silver cover, narrow glossy pages in color inserted among the matte b/w pages, and lots of appealing visual information throughout. The curators clearly embraced the direction of the 2016 Biennale directed by Alejandro Aravena and produced a socially and politically charged exhibition. But Kuwait, which just started participating in 2012, didn't return last year. Flipping through this catalog now, I can't help wonder if they'll be back — and back in form — next year.

Author Bio:
Muneerah Alrabe recently completed her SMArchS degree in the Department of Architecture through the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Syracuse University and has professional experience in the field of architecture and design in Kuwait and Germany.
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