Trained as an archaeological conservator at the British Museum and later specializing in Islamic ceramics, Kirsty Norman was Conservator for the al-Sabah Collection of Islamic Art in Kuwait for 16 years, from 1988 onwards. For three months of each year, Kirsty resided in Kuwait to work on this important and wide-ranging collection which belonged to members of the Kuwaiti ruling family, and which comprised part of the Kuwait National Museum.
In August 1990, the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait and over the following months the Iraqi government organised the systematic emptying of the major assets and institutions in the country, including Kuwait National Museum. All of the looted objects from the museum were taken to Baghdad. Kirsty, caught as she attempted to escape across the desert, was held hostage by the Iraqis to form part of a “human shield”.
After Kuwait was liberated in 1991, Kirsty travelled to Baghdad as a member of a specially created United Nations team to recover the stolen collections.
Against today’s setting of the destruction and looting of antiquities in Syria, Kirsty will describe the collections which she worked on in Kuwait, as well as detailing the remarkable recovery operation which took place after Kuwait’s liberation. Drawing from her hands-on experience with the restitution of Kuwait’s stolen treasures, she will discuss both the lessons learned and the reasons for the success of the operation.
Kirsty Norman was born in Hong Kong, but is now based in London. She is an Honorary Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, where she teaches heritage management. In her earlier career of 25 years as an archaeological conservator, she trained at the British Museum, and then worked largely in Turkey and the Middle East, becoming freelance and combining a range of museum and excavation projects in Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Turkey. Also during this period, she and her husband were in Hong Kong for four years, where she worked as a consultant for the Antiquities and Monuments Office on finds from sites excavated in advance of the building of Chek Lap Kok airport.
Kirsty was featured in a two part BBC Radio 4 programme called A Quiet Invasion. Programme 1 was based on the diary that Kirsty kept hour by hour through the first month of the invasion and occupation of Kuwait; in Programme 2 Kirsty talked to others who had been in Kuwait through the whole 6 month occupation 20 years on, to examine how it had affected them, and Kuwait. A Quiet Invasion won a bronze medal at the New York Festivals International Radio Program Awards.