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Abu Issa at work in his shop (Photograph by the late Muhammed Ibrahim – KUNA)

Sculpture Hands on a Solid Past – ‘Booms’ to take you back

By Amer Al-Hilal

Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (1993)

His hands carefully slide across the dusty wooden object. The white-bearded man then places the object on a wooden rack and carefully chooses his tools. The sound of hammering is audible as the elderly craftsman begins to knock wooden nails into the seafaring vessel. His name is Abdulwahab Issa Al Rashed and he is a miniature boat builder.

Abu Issa, as he likes to be known, is a meticulous craftsman and enjoys constructing a variety of wooden ship and boat models, in a various sizes. Located on the Gulf Road, adjacent to the beach, surrounded by traditional Kuwait mud houses and a small mosque, Abu Issa can be found constantly working on new miniatures in his cramped little edifice, highlighted by its wooden gate – it is like stepping into Kuwait’s pre-oil, pearl-diving past. Abu Issa has been working his trade since 1972 and states that his work first “began as a hobby.” He works on a variety of miniature and not-so-miniature boats (such as the 4 feet long ‘Al Boom,’ a traditional Kuwaiti fishing and pearl-diving ship). Abu Issa believes that newer generations of Kuwaitis should not forget their humble and hard-working past, and encourages them to preserve the heritage and craft of ship-building. Some of the miniature ships that Abu Issa builds at the present time include the ‘Jalboot,’ ‘Sanbook,’ Albatil,’ and ‘Alshuia;’ all traditional boats which were once used as merchant and fishing vessels.

The demand for his work has considerably increased since the liberation, due to the theft and destruction of much of his work by the Iraqis, and due to increased public interest in the ancient Kuwaiti art forms. Indeed, his clients include Gulf citizens, as well as Westerners who have a keen interest in Kuwait’s heritage. Most prefer to order the ‘Al Boom’ models (a Kuwaiti icon if ever there was one). Abu Issa’s easy-going, relaxed, yet disciplined demeanor is tailor made for the kind of model building that he specializes in. His work hours can sometime hit the midnight hour, whether demand for his miniatures exists or not (he takes up to one week to build a full-scale model, but with bouts of energy, he can build one in two days).

Abu Issa is not a materialistic man; most of his pleasure is derived from the craft itself. His prices are reasonable as well (ranging from KD 30 to KD 900 for a massive, meticulously crafted model). His models can beautify offices, living rooms, hallways and make ideal presents for foreigners unfamiliar with Kuwait’s ships of yester-year. Fortunately, Abu Issa’s love and passion for his trade guarantees that the fate of this particular Kuwaiti art form is in solid hands.

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