While Kuwait was once seen as a regional enclave of intellectual freedom, it now struggles with censorship and an unprecedented increase in book banning. In August 2018, the government acknowledged that it had banned more than 4,300 books since 2013, including many works of literature such as Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Maya Angelou’s memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” is forbidden in Kuwait. And the first Arabic-language Nobel Prize winner, the Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz’s “Children of Gebelawi” is on the list too.
Inspired by this literary massacre, and as a sign of opposition to the banning of writings as well as the persecution of their authors, Kuwati designer and artist Mohammad Sharaf, a design graduate of SVA MFA Design who practices in Kuwait, created the Cemetery of Banned Books, a symbolic piece of protest and public art intervention.
The mass graves were conceptualized and installed by Sharaf on the sidelines of Kuwait’s Annual Book Fair. This ominous installation includes more than 200 headstones engraved with the names of some of the books that were banned by the government in recent years. These books vary from children’s books to encyclopedias, to novels, and political and religious books written by local and international authors.
The Cemetery of Banned Books was installed on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018 at 9am. It remained in place for four hours before being removed by the authorities.