From a New Generation of Artists, Vivid Canvases of Iraq’s Pain

painting by sammer esamWriter Jack Healy (The New York Times—June 18) chronicles the journey of artists in today’s Iraq. Young artists have been influenced by the years of war and occupation, often to the consternation of those teaching art in the universities. As one student exclaims, “Galleries and committees stopped giving me prizes. They always ask me to make a painting for decoration, that pleases people. They didn’t see what we saw. They don’t have the suffering we have inside.”

“Why focus on the killing. That kind of art does not help, and it just does not sell,” one teacher told his college students. “We need beauty and happiness.” However, the real world has come rushing back into the arts. With three new art colleges recently opening throughout Iraq, applications to art schools have risen by 25%. “Young artists are setting up studios in neighborhoods where militants once carried out kidnappings and executions.”


The article continues:

“In early June, a women’s art college put on a play that chronicled a boy’s search for love and hope — and his ultimate death — in present-day Baghdad. It was set in front of faux blast walls, and brought to life by a cacophony of staged explosions, whirring helicopter blades and gunfire.

Similar scenes played out in the student art competition. A sculpted woman was posed inside a cage. A painted warplane barreled over the scene of a crucifixion. A shadowy figure marched across a canvas with rifle drawn. Hovels sat on a blank white field, beneath disconnected electric poles, a reflection of the crumpling housing and poor basic services throughout the country.

“There must be a change,” said Omar Shahabi, 28, whose entry was a portrait of a sullen young Iraqi woman trying fruitlessly to leave the country. “We express the reality we live in. This is very simple. I’m not living in some other place where there is peace. I’m sending a message.”

When it came time to name the winners, Mr. Kasim’s vortex of howling Iraqi faces and Mr. Shahabi’s defiant young woman were among those to receive certificates for participating.

For the two highest prizes, the judges chose an impressionistic painting of women at home, and a bronze sculpture of a bull contentedly munching grass.”

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