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.