A glimpse of the Baghdad art scene

The Baghdad art scene is thriving despite a lack of security and sense of fear.

mohammedart.jpgBAGHDAD — In the midst of a breakdown in security and squabbling over who will be in Iraq’s interim government, Baghdad’s art scene has thrived in the wake of of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
In a quiet air-conditioned gallery near the Palestine Hotel and facing the Tigris, the Akkad Gallery has a new show of established and new artists, arranged by Mohammed Rasim, 30, an artist from Baghdad.
The gallery is a oasis of calm and culture. The cool white walls punctuated by canvases of riotous color are a marked contrast to the hot, brown and dusty city outside. In here, car bombs and sectarian politics seem far away.
You can see a sample of some of the work on a page I set up. Please go see.
But Rasim is an interesting fellow. He organized this show in honor of the 70th anniversary of the Iraqi Communist Party, with whom he became friends when he lived in Jordan from 1997-99. Rasim’s two pieces were moody and brooding, just the kind of art that I like. Both his works were infused with the mythology and history of Mesopotamia, with iconography stretching back to the dawn of civilization and Sumeria. Once piece was an homage to the Marsh Arabs, or the Ma’dan, with their reed boats and reliance on that ancient environment. Another piece explored the life circle that is the menstrual cycle, with deep reds and circles competing with icons resembling cuneiform, all in bias relief made of oil paint.
Kifaah Abd Al-Jibar.jpg(I’m no art expert. Bear with me. And by the way, the Ma’dan used their reeds to pretty much invent the arch, which they use in their homes, boats, etc. As my friend Phillip Robertson of Salon.com reminded me the other day, “First they invented the arch and then they invented cities. No slouches, they.”)
I plan to explore this scene more; it’s fascinating. And like journalists operating in a hostile environment, artists in Iraq are likewise struggling with security while they try to work. I wasn’t able to spend too much time with Mohammed and Haider Hashim, the gallery’s owner. I was just taking a break from the day. But if the creativity and passion evidenced in the artwork in the Akkad Gallery is typical of Iraqi artists, then this should be a tremendously interesting subject to explore.