Thursday, October 07, 2010


Jerusalem. The darkness that hangs over the city doesn't fade with the sun. The depth of the land doesn't shallow like its dry sea beds. The history doesn't renew, the present its living doesn't get written down in history. Today, Jerusalem is dying, like her sister Baghdad. They both lie on the deathbeds, waiting for a presence as strong as they once were to rescue them.
A prison for one, security for another. Both jails. Steel and concrete make toxic the landscape. And what a landscape...
A landscape for the narrow-minded.
Jerusalem. Her ghosts deny her her right to live the present moment, always suffering the history of her loaded land. Loaded guns, settlers and soldiers. When has identity become a crime? A man, her son, stands up for himself, handing his identity papers to an identity in crisis, clothed in fatigues. Her sons fatigued from the harassment and the humiliation they endure on a daily basis.
Shoved down our throats, we choke. Suffocated. The city, suffocated.
Is this what our prophets would have wanted us to do with their teachings? In the land they made holy? In the belly of the beast, we choke on its bile.
We reach Jerusalem in search for salvation, a selfish salvation that leaves us blind to the struggles of mankind. Because man is one, but divided. We reach Jerusalem in a state of willful blindness, maintaining us through our journey of personal salvation. A selfish race, is the human race.
Deeper than one can ever imagine, Jerusalem's roots are rotting beneath her divine earth.
Jerusalem is ours, it is the center of our universe, as Baghdad is the sun. Jerusalem remains frozen in time, while Baghdad reverts back.
Its a strange time today and always, forever and never, when one must focus on their breath to remember they exist and not fade like her glorious empires.
Corruption and repulsion, revelations obscured.

Bir Zeit

I was able to make it to Palestine because I was invited to take part in the Al-Mahatta International Artists Workshop. 20 artists from all around the world gathered together at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in the West Bank town of Birzeit to create art, brought together by the wonderful people at Al-Mahatta Gallery.
The weeks before my arrival to Palestine, I had been going through a serious catharsis, in all senses of the word. When it came down to my own art practice, after completing Warchestra, I was searching for a new direction to my work. Finding myself pushing further and further away from politics, a world from which I felt was bottomless, and my own reassessment towards my identity as an Iraqi, I felt lost. Wounded emotionally and spiritually by what was happening politically in Iraq, I was trying to further myself from those two elements. However, upon arriving in Palestine, focus fell on politics and identity. Non-surprisingly, of course. Whatever I tried to push away from my spirit came back stronger, pushing harder towards me, almost forcing me to accept its presence in my life. Yes, I am a politicized identity, as we all are. Yes, I am Iraqi, and I am proud to be an Iraqi. Instead of allowing these two factors to be a weight upon my shoulders, a darkness enveloping my creative sphere, a public burden, I accepted them. I still don't know how the shift occurred, or what the pivotal moment was.


The work I created in Palestine is personal, rather than political. But of course, as a politicized identity, the personal is always political. In collaboration with my sister Tamara's photography, these paintings are about hope, imagination and freedom. They can be set in Palestine, Iraq, or anywhere in the world where walls separate the people, and children must dream of a brighter future.



I took this aerial photograph of Baghdad in December 2009.

The book, "Souls Land: Closing" is made of my photographs taken in Baghdad in 2004 and 2009. This personal book offers glimpses into Iraq through my eyes. It is about my own search for identity, my love for my homeland, and the devastation it has suffered as a result of the ongoing war.
Displacement, distance, and devastation.
In a way, this book is a symbolic closing of a chapter in my life.









I don't know what else I can say about my experience in Palestine without stripping it of its authenticity. I think its best to keep it as it is and allow for this period in my life to come out through my future work, and not these limiting words.

"The visible world was made to correspond the the world invisible and there is nothing in this world but is a symbol of something in that other world."

(Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazzali, 11th Century)


18 days in Palestine, and I long for more. In those 18 days, I did not read the news once. I did not involve myself in the political happenings of the country. I did not write a single sentence. And now, across its borders, I find myself trying to write about my experience and just can't feel authentic about it. Who am I to give my opinion about what is going on in Palestine? What can I say about that loaded land without being redundant, or predictable? Yes, Palestine is not my country, but I feel Palestinian. The whole world should feel Palestinian. Just as Palestinians feel Iraqi, and feel for Iraq as it is their own heritage that is being sold to the devil.
What can I say to make the world realize that what is going in within the borders of that land is pure crime, injustice at its best? The enemy is clear, the crimes are outright. What can I say to the willfully blind?

I did not read the news, but I had a politicized experience. Witnessing the daily lives of Palestinians both in 48 and the West Bank was shocking. The question that kept on my mind is, which is worse for our people? Life in 48, otherwise known as "Israel", or the the West Bank? Having your language wiped away, constantly being reminded of the occupation in the form of soldiers, street names, and flags? Or having zero mobility and contained in a prison cell in the shape of a city?

I still can't get myself to write about this experience. It was too deep, too intense, too self-reflective, and too symbolic to be written into these simple words. Or even to be shared with the world. I feel little, compared to what is happening. I feel small next to the vastness of its history and significance.

I urge everyone to visit Palestine and see for themselves.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

انانـة في دمشـق

في احدى المرات وقعت عيناي على خبر اوردته (العربية) عن فتاة عراقية اسمها "انانة" السومرية في دمشق سبتمبر 2008 ، وبالرغم من كوني لااعرف ماذا حدث في تلك الفترة الا انني اشعر الآن بأنه من الضروري ان ادلي برأي حول تلك القصة .

المقالة الاولى عن اللوحة كانت بقلم د.سوكي فلاكينبيرك كاتب المرأة الامريكي المعروف والتي نشرها في بعض الصحف الامريكية مثل (امريكان كرونكل) ، وكذلك موقع "ايلاف" وهو موقع عربي الكتروني متقدم الذي ترجم المقالة ونشرها على موقعه حيث حصدت المقالة على عدد من التعليقات وردود الافعال منها ماهو جيد ومنها ماهو سيء ، بعضها مساند والآخر قبيح ويشكل هذا رد فعل طبيعي للحديث حول موضوع "البغاء" .

في اليوم التالي تلقيت مكالمة هاتفية من السيد حيان نيوف مراسل قناة العربية طالبا اجراء مقابلة معي بشأن اللوحة واستجبت لهذا الطلب لشعوري بأنه سيكون هناك حوارا ايجابيا حول محنة ومعاناة الفتيات والنساء العراقيات في سوريا والتي يتم تسليط الضوء عليها من قبل وسائل الاعلام .

وفي تلك المقابلة اعطيت ماكنت اعتقده صائبا حيث تحدثت عن جميع المفاهيم المختلفة التي احتوتها اللوحات والتي تمثل تشويه لأحدى لوحات المستشرق الفرنسي جان ليون جيروم والذي رسم "سوق العبيد" في سنة 1867 والتي تمثل عملية بيع فتيات في سن التاسعة واجبارهن على ممارسة البغاء في سوريا وفي الوطن العربي .

لقد اوضحت كيف ان كل الشخصيات الظاهرة في اللوحة لعبت دورا معينا في التسبب في ظاهرة الدعارة بين اوساط اللاجئات العراقيات سواء من قبل الجندي الامريكي او "القواد العربي" او الزبون السعودي ، وقد أكدت بشكل رئيسي على هذه المفاهيم للمراسل المزعوم ، وأردت ان اجعل الامر واضحا تماما من ان الفتاة العراقية "انانة" تمثل رمزا للوطن العراق .
لقد تم استغلال العراق من قبل جيرانه والغرب بشكل مستمر وثابت ومنذ زمن قبل الغزو الغير شرعي عام 2003 حيث ازدادت بعده وتيرة هذا الاستغلال ، لاأحد من الاقطار المجاورة للعراق او الغزاة من الغرب كان بريئا ، الكل معتدين ، والكل يهدف الى استغلال العراق وقت الازمات او الحروب .

"انانـة" ليست عاهرة بل ضحيــة ، ضحية حرب غير مشروعة ، ضحية استغلال اناس يستفيدون من ضعفها وقلة حيلتها .

ومع الاسف الشديد فأن هذا المراسل استعمل مقاطع منتقاة من المقابلة بهدف اظهاري كأمراة شريرة ، وفي الحقيقة فقد اثارت المقابلة تعليقات وردود افعال لاتحصى ذهب بعضها الى اتهامي بكوني انسانة فاجرة ، والآخر بالمرأة القذرة ، والكندية التي تريد نشر الغسيل القذر للعراق ، واني أحطم سمعة المرأة العراقية الشريفة ، وفي الحقيقة لم اكن اعرف كيف ادافع عن نفسي او عملي ، لكنني كنت اؤمن بأنه على الرغم من المقالة المصاحبة للوحة والتي صورتني بشكل مغاير لحقيقتي ، الا ان اللوحة بقيت ، والمقابلة عرضت ، وهذا بحد ذاته شيء مهم بالنسبة لي ، لأنني على يقين بأن هناك ايضا من قرأ بشكل صحيح الرسائل المحددة التي احتوتها اللوحة .

عاشت "انانة" حياتها في دمشق على صفحات المدونات العربية واخبار مواقع الانترنت ، وجعلت الكثير من الناس يكونون آراء واصوات تدلو بدلوها في موضوع الدعارة في العالم العربي ، وهذا يشكل من وجهة نظري نجاحا في جعل الناس يفكرون في ذلك ، فالاتجاه الذي ذهبوا اليه في جميع الاحوال هو موضوع آخر يبدو اننا العرب لانزال غير مستعدين ان نكون اكثر صراحة وشفافية حول مثل هذه المواضيع التي ابتلينا بها مثل الدعارة بين اللاجئات صغيرات السن ، وكذلك الدعم الصامت لحرب غير مشروعة سببت هذه الازمة وغيرها من الازمات الاخرى .

بطبيعة الحال يؤلمني كثيرا بأن أنعت بالمرأة "القذرة" من قبل مئات من الناس ، كما ويؤلمني أن اشهد الجهل والانغلاق لكثير من قراء الصفحات الالكترونية ، وعلى الرغم من كل ذلك فانني لازلت اساند لوحاتي ومتمسكة بمعتقداتي ولا أندم على اي شيء ، حيث قادني ذلك الى رؤية جديدة حول موضوع "انانـة" في دمشـق

Monday, April 05, 2010

WARCHESTRA solo exhibition

WARCHESTRA solo exhibition will be up at the Toronto Free Gallery,
as part of Mayworks Festival from April 24 - May 22.

Opening April 24th at 4pm, Artist talk at 5pm

1277 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON


Friday, January 29, 2010

In retrospect: Inanna in Damascus


I just came across some more blogs that had reposted the Al Arabiya article of Inanna in Damascus back in September 2008.
Although I never truly addressed what happened during that period, I feel it is now necessary to give my side of the story.

The first article about the painting was by Dr. Suki Falconberg, an American feminist author. She published the article in a few U.S. papers, such as the American Chronicle and such. Elaph, a progressive Arabic news website, translated Dr. Falconberg's article and published it on their site. It gathered quite a few comments, some good, some bad, some supportive, some ugly. A natural reaction to a discourse about prostitution.

The following morning, I received a phone call from Hayan Nayouf, a journalist from Al Arabiya, asking for an interview about the painting. I complied, as I thought it would be a positive form of dialogue about the struggle of the Iraqi girls and women in Syria, whose plight is completely under the radar in the media.

I gave what I thought was a good interview, where I spoke about all the different concepts within the painting; that it is a subversion of an Orientalist painting by Jean-Leon Gerome, a French Orientalist who painted "The Slave Market" in 1867, that there are girls as young as 9 years old being sold or forced into prostitution in Syria and around the Arab world. I spoke about how all the different characters depicted in the painting played one role or another in bringing about this crisis of prostitution among female Iraqi refugees, from the US soldier, the Arab "pimp" and the Saudi "client". Most importantly, and I emphasized this to the so-called journalist, I wanted to make it absolutely clear that Inanna in Damascus is not only about the crisis of prostitution amongst young Iraqi girls, but how Inanna herself is a symbol (Ramz, in Arabic) for Iraq, the nation.

Iraq has been exploited by its neighbors and the West constantly and consistently since way before the illegal invasion of 2003, but especially since. Not one of Iraq's neighbors, or its aggressors in the West, are innocent when it comes to the exploitation of Iraq during times of crisis and war.
Inanna is not a prostitute, she is a victim.

A victim of an illegal war, of exploitation, of people benefiting of her struggles and weaknesses.

Needless to say, this "journalist" used selective parts of the interview to build me up to seem as some kind of villian, as though it is I who is exploiting the Iraqi woman. He created a controversy around a painting that is meant to create awareness and generate dialogue.
It generated dialogue indeed, with countless comments calling me a whore, a prostitute, a dirty woman, a "Canadian" exposing the dirty laundry of Iraq, ruining the reputation of the honorable Iraqi woman.

I did not know how to defend myself, or how to defend my work. But I believed that although the article accompanying the painting painted me out to be something I am not, the painting remained. Dialogue was generated. And that was important for me. Even though it was misunderstood by many people, perhaps it clicked for a few. Perhaps, just perhaps, some readers understood the messages in the painting.

Inanna in Damascus lived out her life, on the Arabic blogosphere and news websites. That she caused so many people to be vocal and opinionated about the topic of prostitution in the Arab world meant that she succeeded in making people think. The direction they moved in, however, is another topic. It seems that we, the Arab people, are still not ready to be frank about issues that plague us such as the prostitution of young refugee girls, and the silent support of an illegal war that caused this very crisis.

It definitely hurt very much to be called a whore by hundreds of virtual people, and to witness first-hand the ignorance and closed-mindedness of a large population of online readers.
Regardless, I stand by my painting, and my beliefs, and do not regret a thing.

And that concludes my retrospective on Inanna in Damascus.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Mysteries of life


Nasb Al Hurriya
Photo taken in Baghdad December 2009


Freedom Monument?
Painted in Montreal, November 2009

When I painted this piece, I was using images to reference the Nasb al Hurriya from the 1980's, of what I found in my books and online.

One month after completing this piece, I went to Baghdad. One of the first places I went to was Nasb al Hurriya, to see the beautiful monument with my own eyes after a long separation. Seeing the Hummer parked in the very spot that I had painted it one month prior to that very moment was a strange and intense feeling... the only difference was that it was an Iraqi humvee, rather than one belonging to the occupying force.

Strange coincidences happen rarely, but happen often in the land of two rivers... where the energy is so strong you can feel it vibrate within your soul for months after leaving. A vibration that is both beautiful and destructive, sometimes simultaneously.