AFSC-LA Art Exhibition Spotlights Poets, Painters of the Arab World

Article excerpt

"I am not Assyrian or Chaldean or Akkadian.

I am not a Christian or Muslim or Buddhist

I am human."

Poet/artist Paul Batou was reading from his poem, entitled "Identity," at the June 11 opening of "Colors of the World," an art exhibition sponsored by American Friends Service Committee-Los Angeles.

"I was born in Mesopotamia, Uruk, Nippur, Shuruppak, and Sippar.

I was born in Babylon, home of Anu and Ishtar," continued the Iraq-born Batou.

"I am a son of Enlil, Shamash, and Gilgamesh.

I am a son of Ishtar, Ea, and Nunsun.

I was killed once by a flood.

And a million times by a creature,

Called a human.

Called a country.

I was killed by a nation,

Or United Nations."

The poem is included in his book, My Last Thoughts about Iraq (Xlibris, 2007).

Although he graduated from the University of Baghdad with a degree in pharmacy, Batou began exhibiting his paintings as early as 1980, in an Iraq which at that time was recognized for producing first-rate artists. He was pressed into the military as a medic during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, then fled with his family to Los Angeles in 1989.

Batou was joined by two other writers, Reem Hammad and Vivien Sansour, in the reading portion of the program. Sansour read her latest poem, "Stolen Pomegranates," and other works.

Hammad, who is president of International Muslimah Artists Network (IMAN), read her prose work, "Jasmine," published in the anthology Sisters Singing (Wild Girl Publishing, 2009).

Hamad, who grew up in Aleppo, Syria, holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from UCLA. The exhibit features three of her ceramics: a wheel-thrown and carved plate, entitled "Birth of a Star," a coil-built burnished bowl of earthenware clay, named "Native American Expression," and "Whirling Sextet," a group of vases with highly fired glazes, inspired by the movements of dervishes and replicated on the potter's wheel.

Others artists represented in the exhibit, on view through Nov. 12 at AFSC-LA, 634 S. Spring St. in downtown Los Angeles, are Brian Biery, Sam Hassan, Dalah Faytrouni, Muhammadi Zuhal Karamanli, Gary Simpson, Rev. Wilfredo Benitez and Omar Yashruti.

The Night Counter Reading

It takes a boundless imagination to conjure Arab literature's immortal storyteller Scherezade following an American G.I. who is flying home from Iraq to Los Angeles. There the immortal beauty catches sight of 82-year-old Fatima Abdullah at a funeral, follows her home and commands Fatima to begin telling her 1001 tales from her life.

This was the kernel of a novel by Alia Yunis that germinated into her debut novel, The Night Counter (available from the AETBook Club). At a July 19 reading in Pasadena, Yunis read selections about Fatima's interactions with the legendary Scherezade.

Scherezade has told Fatima she must entertain her with stories of her life because "when our stories end, so do our lives." Thus, on her 993nd night of telling stories Fatima reckons she has only eight more nights to live-and that's where Yunis' novel begins.

Fatima has just divorced the love of her life, Ibrahim, the father of nine of her children, and traveled from Detroit to Los Angeles to live with her grandson, Amir, whom she raised. The handsome Amir is an aspiring actor who Fatima refuses to believe is gay, despite his pleas that she stop trying to find him a bride.

While Amir thinks his beloved Tayta Fatima is losing her marbles as she talks incessantly to herself about her life, FBI agents "tipped off" by Amir's old boyfriend are casing his home in West Hollywood. One of the funniest scenes takes place as Fatima, her friend Neda, and Neda's granddaughter, Rana, wait for Amir to arrive home.

Amir dashes all of Fatima's hopes of matching him with Rana when he returns from an audition wearing a Baluchi tunic and trousers and a fake beard dangling to his knees. …