Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Sore for Sight, Eyes

December 06, 2009
Baghdad, Iraq

A practicing artist in Iraq today is one to be applauded. The daily struggle for electricity, gas, petrol, food and money leaves little time for artistic practice, let alone inspiration and access to materials. I went to the Ministry of Culture today and asked myself what they were doing inside their offices. There are many employees. There is little cultural life in Baghdad.

On the way to the Ministry of Culture we passed many sites of devastation. Al Beit al Iraqi, once upon a time a gallery and cultural center, is a sad site. The owner, Amal al Khudhairy, shed her tears publicly after an American "smart" bomb destroyed one of Baghdad's most treasured cultural spaces in 2003. It remains gated and vacant, with the sign whispering stories of Iraq's cultural past.


I stood below the Freedom Monument yesterday and I tried very hard to feel free.
What used to be called King Ghazi Square became Tahrir (Liberation) Square in the mid-50's. Lucky for the Americans, they didn't have to rename one of Baghdad's most remarkable landmarks after they claimed "Camp Victory" in 2003.
A bomb ripped through a building a stones throw away from the Freedom Monument some while ago. I don't know what I would have done had Jawad's Selim final masterpiece been scathed by the attack... how many hearts would have broken? How many sculptors would retire their tools? How many painters would burn their brushes?


The most disturbing part of my day was driving past what remains of the Ministry of Justice. Bombed only a few weeks ago on October 25th, on a day that became known to media consumers as "Bloody Sunday", at least 132 people lost their lives in that attack. I cannot express my sorrow and sympathy to those who lost their lives or their loved ones, nor can I speak more about the utter devastation of the site. I was left speechless, and will let the pictures do the same to you.


No one should have to witness or endure such murder, and tragic destruction. No one.


There is so much symbolism in this city that is unexplainable. To bomb the Ministry of Justice, with the statue of King Faisal I unscathed only meters away. His grandson, King Faisal II, was killed on July 14, 1958 in Abdel Karim Qasim's Military coup.


What used to be Saddam's Center of Modern Art became the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art after the fall in 2003. It is now the Ministry of Culture. Only the ground floor is used as exhibition space, currently holding 4 different exhibitions. The first was a joint exhibition of a father and his daughter from Karbala. Another exhibition was of a body of work by an artist called Karim Al Amery.



I imagined these artists in their studios, or their homes, working in candlelight as the electricity cuts off throughout the night. I imagined their tools, and how and where they buy their materials, where they find their sources and their inspiration. I imagined these artists' pride in having exhibitions in their native land, and wondered what their aspirations are to exhibit outside of Iraq.
I respect these artists.

As I was on my way out, I noticed a darkened room. I asked the man in charge of showing me around if I could enter, and he allowed me in.
Nothing can describe the joy I felt as I immediately realized that I was standing in a room filled with paintings and sculptures by Iraq's "Ruwad" (Pioneers).


Naziha Salim, Mohammed Arif, Shaker Hassan... their works in front of my eyes. My eyes went cross-eyed (inchiqalit, as we say) on a painting by Saadi al Kaabi, and another by Mahood.


The ingenuity and boldness, the confidence and courageousness of these works are unparalleled by any other Iraqi art I have seen, and I so wish that the state of Iraqi art on this native land will one day return to the level of the Ruwad. Because if the Iraqi artists had it once, we still have it, and will have it again. The artistic and cultural heritage that we have is so powerful but sadly it has been disrespected time and time again with the looting of our museums and the threats made to our intellectuals and artists. With so many of our cherished artists living outside of Iraq, art in the diaspora has flourished while art within Iraq became reduced to rubble, with no disrespect to the working artists that remained in Iraq and courageously continued their artistic practice.

Power to the people, through brushes, not bullets.


Saira said...

Really insightful comments, Sundus. It's hard to imagine what it must feel like to witness that.

Good on you for sharing, too. It's nice to get one's information from such a trusted source.

Sean Williams said...

Great article. Amazing to see that art, in any shape or form, perpetually resists the ravages of war.

A. Rose said...

These are beautiful. Thanks for sharing your experiences, all of them.