Accepted paper:

Picturing the State. Political Representation, Infrastructure, and Visual Culture in Kuwait


Laura Hindelang (Freie Universitaet Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses illustrations of infrastructures built during the 1950s on Kuwaiti postage stamps and paper money of the 1950s and 1960s as new political iconographies of an emerging petro-state, combining recent art historical and anthropological theories.

Paper long abstract:

Following the argument that infrastructures can be ascribed a political function beyond or even irrespective of their technological functionality, I propose that their significance can be assessed based on their aesthetic (architectural) form or based on their negotiated representation in visual culture. As a case study, this paper analyses the first Kuwaiti postage stamps (1959) and first national paper money (1961), of which the majority displayed illustrations of infrastructural projects completed during the 1950s. Considering the project of decolonial nation building in Kuwait at the time, the paper discusses how political claims are expressed in visual representations of infrastructural projects on stamps and paper money, two elements often considered benchmarks of sovereignty and mobile carriers of political messages. Methodologically, I use an interdisciplinary approach combining art historical formal analysis of stamps and paper money in the tradition of a political iconography (Warnke 2010, Fleckner/Wagner/Ziegler 2011) with the theoretical framework of an anthropology of infrastructure. Thus, stamps, coins, and paper money are conceptualized as infrastructures themselves, objects that enabling the systemic movement of values and images. I will argue that the illustrations of infrastructures on these stamps and paper money became new political iconographies of the emerging petro-state of Kuwait. By being displayed on stamps and money that circulate in everyday life, these objects materialized a new infrastructure of the emerging state.

panel P092
The art of infrastructure