Written by Sara Al Hindi. Published on 6 March 2022.
By taking aerial photographs of the largest tire cemetery in the world, located in Suliabiyah, in northwest Kuwait, Abdulrahman Al-Bedah achieved his goal of lying on what looks like giant olive slices. The picture shows two people laying down on top of thousands of discarded tires and captures only a portion of the tire dump, often referred to as ‘cemetery’. It contains more than fifty million tires, their industrial and environmental fates neglected. This was a true adventure, considering they climbed a mountain of tires to reach the heart of the massacre safely.
Abdulrahman Al-Bedah is a professional photographer, trainer, content creator, and social media influencer. His main interests revolve around documentary photography, creating cultural content, and vlogging. Al-Bedah said, “I captured distinct shots but saved most of them for the perfect timing, each image has a suitable timing to appear, to engage the community, and engage within the context.” This piece of land in Suliabiyah visually reveals various environmental, industrial, residential, security, and bureaucratic issues; it collects the memories of time like a rotating wheel.
The presence of large numbers of discarded tires in Suliabiyah, which can be seen via satellite, has caused environmental and security problems since they catch fire from time to time. The fumes spread until they extend to residential and agricultural areas, polluting the environment and poisoning the air. This enormous ‘open-air museum’ of more than 17 years of accumulation of 8,000 discarded tires per day epitomizes how geographical space is a place of preservation, memory, and recall. The archive is a material of temporal value preserved away from the public and always revealed as materialistic proof of historical narratives. Therefore, the emergence of this legendary tires cemetery picture was a proactive step to encourage the public to notice and move closer to addressing their issues in the era of the power of an image.
The tires seem like secretions of an oil state, with the shape of the stacked tires from afar resembling a bleak archive of a cement city, harboring memories of its residents and their journeys. It even reflects the complexity of major issues caused by government decisions, by papers stacked on the desks of leaders, and by contradictory echoes from the parliament regarding the fate of this area, which belongs to a postponed housing project in a country with a housing crisis.
Bureaucracy has played its visual game on this ground, which has been managed by many governmental institutions over time. The first of these entities was the Kuwait Municipality, which turned it into a deserted landfill. Then the Public Authority for Industry tried dissolving it before finally giving up when it declared that the tires had no economic benefit. This was followed by the Public Authority for the Environment taking charge of studying the issue and building a factory next to it to recycle the used tires. The recycling process was operated by EPSCO Company (private sector), which slowly solved the problem due to unassuming government interaction about supplying the region with electricity, diesel, and water. This modest factory recycles 3,000 tires per day, turning them into asphalt mixtures, rubber products for sports flooring, and raw rubber materials, and exports them to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other countries that deal with this type of industry.
The EPSCO recycling factory chose photographer Abdulrahman Al-Bedah to formulate his artistic vision. Albedah did a spontaneous performance of photography and video with his approach to aerial capture and aesthetic dimension. His purpose was to draw the attention of the private sectors to the need for social solidarity to develop a solution to this dilemma. His work is a contribution to speeding up the means of transport and supporting the project of recycling the huge quantities of tires.
The title of the artwork “Lying on Tires” clearly reflects the artist’s intention. He leaves the city to come to this place and lies down on top of the mountain of tires. As he aptly mentions, “laying down is the leitmotif of my recent photography practice by taking a capture through (drone camera) that shows the whole scene from a vertical view, and I finally applied this in Suliabiyah after a long climbing trip to the tops of the mountains of tires mixed with iron wires, which was a challenge to keep your balance and not lose your steps.”
Abdulrahman believes that each picture holds a story or an issue, where through photography documentation he can address big issues and simplify them in an artistic form that may help in seeking solutions without tension. He said, “Art is the voice people prefer, it makes them pay attention to their issues, especially when the artist goes to the field, exposes himself to the problem, performs new techniques, and interacts with them, as he is the witness and the artist.”
More than 500 thousand viewers from around the world accompanied Abdulrahman on his trip to the cemetery of tires. The Youtube video gave rise (and continues to do so) to a remarkable interaction between people about the project, in which some entrepreneurs and interested people from countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Oman described what they saw as “gold scattered on the ground.”
A picture is worth a thousand words. Yet, this image is about 50 million wheels, 20 thousand citizens, decades of time; an accumulation that takes the form of an open-air museum. As the cemetery was relocated during the time of writing this text, this legendary photography project has become proactive, especially after the scattered tires were reassembled in an orderly manner in their new location in the Alsalmi area. So, will the citizens who will build their future homes suffer from tires buried under this land of dreams? Will the promises of a better future accumulate again in the form of wheels?
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_ Al Qabas (No author given): The Tire Cemetery is an Open Door for Problems. Published on 20 October 2020 >> 6 March 2022
_ Adel Sami: Al-Salmi is the largest tire cemetery in the world. 30 August 2021 >> 6 March 2022
_ independantarabia.com (No author given): Companies save Kuwait from Burial under the “Tire Cemetery’. Published on 7 September 2021 >> 6 March 2022
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