Magazine article The Middle East

Modern Iraqi Art: Discourse with the Past and a Vision of the Future

Magazine article The Middle East

Modern Iraqi Art: Discourse with the Past and a Vision of the Future

Article excerpt

Kerim Rissin, probably the first Iraqi artist to exhibit outside his country after the downfall of Saddam's regime, is a man with a burning ambition to rediscover Iraq's artistic heritage and translate it into contemporary language. "I want to establish a discourse between the past and present and to find a connection between Iraqi art and the international contemporary art movement", Rissin explained during a recent slide presentation of his work at London's Deluxe Gallery.

The gallery provided a venue for the before.after.now Visions of Iraq exhibition which featured the works of artists living in Iraq and abroad.

"During the unhappy confusion surrounding Iraq's invasion and occupation, a group of Londoners asked: where is the Iraqi voice?" explained Rashad Salim in his introduction to the exhibition. "A few fingertips of England's cultural establishment extended themselves to bring us together within a very short space of time. The quest to find that voice led us to a small yet potent selection of art representing a rich and diverse range of Iraqi experience, practice and ethnic/gender backgrounds".

Rissin, who uses a variety of media in his abstract works, including engraving on metal, dismisses westerners who believe Iraqis are living in a cage of misery. "Even in this cage we can find beauty. I do not believe in portraying tragedies in a direct format. War is ugly--it is not necessary for the artist to portray that ugliness. Artists want to create things that are beautiful and anti-war. You don't have to paint a dead person to express war one line might be expressive of that".

When Iraq was under sanctions, Rissin created a series of three customised artists' books containing abstract collages and painrings. The most recent is Baghdad burning, a comment on the latest war. With some pride he described it as a very important eye witness document from an artist who has lived through these times.

Fellow artist Yonsif Naser, whose massive 460 x 270cm mixed media work Black Rain took up almost an entire wall of the gallery, is dismissive of Rissin's exaltation of abstract art. In exile since 1979, he pointed out that under the repression and censorship of Saddam's regime artists either escaped or resorted to abstract works to conceal their true feelings and avoid persecution. Like the other works on display, Black Rain is a meditation on the present reality, a response to the unfolding events and the unimaginable horrors of war.

Dia Azzawi's Balad Al Sawad (country of blackness) nine charcoal drawings on paper is a series of violently drawn images of terrified, crying and screaming faces, haunting images of despair. The works were created during the 1991 GulfWar when Azzawi plunged into the depths of despair after seeing his country destroyed, shut himself in his house for two months and concentrated on his art. …

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