Monday, February 16, 2009

Art in Baghdad

There's a very interesting article in the New York Times, from a few days ago, about an art exhibit in Baghdad.  The title was "Beacons of Humanity", with 80 works from 39 Iraqi artists.  Most interesting, the exhibit was held in conjunction with a Shi'ite religious holiday and was sponsored by followers of Muqtada al-Sadr.   

You may remember al-Sadr.  He is an extremist Shi'ite religious leader whose Mehdi Army was one of the most violent paramilitary forces during the height of the Iraqi insurgency.  He is a sworn enemy of the United States and almost everything Western.  For maybe the past six to nine months or more, he has apparently been living in Iran, maybe pursuing his religious studies, maybe doing something else.  Anyway, for whatever reason, al-Sadr left Iraq last year and since then his movement has pretty much fallen apart.  The recent elections appear to have relegated his followers to the sidelines.  People in Iraq are tired (and afraid) of his extreme religious militancy.

And now this art show.  Held by an extremist Shi'ite movement.  It's a non-sequitur, like going to a rave party sponsored by the Seventh Day Adventists.  Islamic fundamentalists don't condone the representation of the human figure, yet here were many paintings with figures.  Drawings, paintings, and prints lined the walls.  Abstraction is big here - for many artists, it is the only form that gives them adequate freedom to express their feelings.  This wasn't a Sadrist propaganda show, since few of the artists were Sadrists.  Rather, it just seems like the Sadrists decided to sponsor something that would show the Iraqi public that they're not really the bad guys that the media says they are.

Have the Sadrists really changed?  I don't know.  All I know is that they sponsored a very inclusive show, filled with some work that looks very, very good.  It's a rather daring move.  Most of all, it's encouraging: it means they're trying a different, more constructive approach to winning hearts and minds.  With art, something that's near and dear to me.

During the time that the art show was up, a Sunni female suicide bomber walked into a tent that provided shelter for Shi'ite pilgrims on the way to Karbala.  She killed herself and 40 other people, mostly women and children.

Iraq still has a long way to go.

1 comment:

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/17/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.