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.


Bryan said...


My name is Bryan Semaan, and I am a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Irvine, in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Science. I am an Iraqi born in America – my mother was born and raised in Basra, and my father was born and raised in Northern Iraq, in a village near Mosul called Telkaif (Tel Keppe). I came across your blog because I have been going to Iraq Blog Count for some time now to learn more about what my fellow Iraqis are experiencing back home.

I am currently working on my dissertation research, where I am trying to better understand the ways in which Iraqis are using technology (i.e. the Internet, mobile phones) to repair various practices, e.g. social life, work, and education, despite living through war. My ultimate goal will be to develop technologies that will lessen the effects of war on civilian populations.

I was wondering if you would be willing to participate in an interview? All of the data I collect, as per University policy, will be confidential and anonymous. If you would like to participate, please let me know which method you would prefer. I can call your cell phone, or we can talk over Skype. Please contact me at my e-mail address:

Please let me know if you would like to help a fellow Iraqi! Thank you very much for your time, and I hope to hear from you shortly.


Bryan Semaan, PhD Candidate
Department of Informatics--Collaborative Technologies
Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences
University of California, Irvine

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank you for creating and explaining this painting, ma'am. My name is Lewis Friend, a fiction writer. Your painting inspired me to write a short story dealing with several of the themes you address in your painting.

If things go well, perhaps you will read my story somewhere. I call it 'The Worship of Inanna' and if you do happen to read it one day, I hope you enjoy it as I've enjoyed your painting.


Sex&Safari said...

Thank you Sister Sundus:

Your work is much needed and I send my deepest thanks to you for every drop that you are doing. I am glad that I have finally taken the time to visit your blog. I HOPE THAT THE GIFT THAT YOU MOST CERTAINLY ARE-- BOTH YOU AND YOUR BEAUTIFUL INANNA-- WILL CONTINUE TO SPEAK as you so openly have. I am one of your devotees and I look forward to more years of YOU.

So, thank you, thank you, thank you. In me you have a fan!

Peace to you and blessings from the USA,