Earlier this year, the government of Kuwait officially acknowledged that it had banned over 4,300 books across the country over the past four years. In a form of protest, a Kuwaiti graphic designer and artist Mohammad Sharaf created the Cemetery of Banned Books on a plot of land near the location of Kuwait’s Annual Book Fair.
Sharaf created over 200 headstones, each bearing the name of a particular book that has been banned. Titles include Nahj al-Balagha, The Divine Comedy, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and One Hundred Years of Solitude, to name but a few. Children’s books have also been banned, including one that’s based upon the Disney adaptation of The Little Mermaid. Encyclopedias. as well as religious and political texts are also banned. The New York Times reports that a group of six Arabic and six English readers who work under the Ministry of Information oversee the bans. Officials were not amused by the art installation and the piece stood for only four hours before it was taken down by Kuwaiti authorities. Sharaf has not yet faced legal action, but in an interview with Hyperallergic, he said: “There is a chance that I might face legal repercussions because I did not take permission to use the land to put my installation.” He went on to explain that the project is in no way affiliated with the Book Fair and was self-funded.
Sharaf describes the piece as a “symbolic piece of protest and public art intervention.” He stated that he received a lot of support on social media, but also some criticism from those who don’t believe he should be championing books that are sexual or promote secular or atheist ideals. “The motivation [for the Cemetary] is simply to protest and fight the arbitrary ban of books in Kuwait. As a person who is an activist in the field in art and design, I’ve always thought that activism can be done in many forms,” he said. “Typical activism like riots, panel discussions, and lectures are good, but they are limited in their reach.” The front of the Book Cemetery features a librarians desk, a way of signalling that these books have been ‘checked out’ of Kuwait.