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 Artists lament decline in culture

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Dr.Hannani Maya
المشرف العام
المشرف العام

الدولة : العراق
الجنس : ذكر
عدد المساهمات : 40351
مزاجي : أحب المنتدى
تاريخ التسجيل : 21/09/2009
الابراج : الجوزاء
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مُساهمةموضوع: Artists lament decline in culture   الجمعة 16 مارس 2012, 05:54

Artists lament decline in culture

Yasir Abdul-Hakim, a sculpture student at Iraq's Fine Arts Academy, wanted to learn his craft by making copies of a nude Greek statue. A professor told him to cover them with clothes.He covered the first one, but the second one he copied naked, as it was.

"One of the professors told me: 'What are you doing? You are exposing your life to danger'," Abdul-Hakim said with a bitter smile."I would like to do nude models from Greek civilization. But I cannot execute them due to the religious tide we are in, which no one can deny," he said. "If my professor at college accepts it, society outside will not."

Although Iraq is safer than in the darkest days of sectarian violence, many of its artists, filmmakers, musicians and performers say they are being stifled by religious conservatism and, with the government focused on reconstruction and security, missing the state support they once enjoyed.Under Saddam Hussein, the government commissioned paintings and sculptures, and funded orchestras and theatres, to glorify the nation and its dictator.

But since Saddam was toppled in 2003, Iraq has been dominated by Islamist political parties from the previously suppressed Shi'ite majority. Newly influential clerics deem enjoying painting, sculpture and music as a sin, and much of the official support has disappeared.The Fine Arts Academy still exists and receives state funding, but students and teachers complain that it is no longer adequate for a proper education.

Carefully filing a statue of a headless torso of an ancient Assyrian hunter as part of a project for a class on the restoration of antiquities, Abdul-Hakim said he is hoping to acquire skills in Iraq that he can take abroad.His dream is to go join a sculptor relative who emigrated decades ago to England. In Iraq, he said, "things will be worse, because the intellectual cannot stand against other tides."


Iraq has a long and proud tradition in the arts. The relics of ancient Mesopotamia show that sculpture flourished here for millennia, and in the Islamic period, Iraq's cities were world-renowned centers of poetry and philosophy.Iraqi art was also vibrant in the 20th century, although decades of war and economic sanctions under Saddam caused many artists to emigrate and the firm hand of dictatorship stifled free expression.

The situation for artists deteriorated even further after Saddam was deposed. Many of Baghdad's intellectuals fled the widespread violence caused by fighting between Shi'ites and Sunnis in 2006-07.Now, in a country where the capital still has electricity for only a few hours a day, funding for art is not a priority. Public gatherings are dangerous. There are few galleries. Concert halls are empty. Cinemas and most theatres are shut.

Qasim al-Sabti, a prominent painter whose works have been shown in Tokyo and New York, has seen his own career track the fortunes of Iraqi art over the past 40 years.Back in the 1960s, when he was poor and Baghdad was an emerging intellectual capital of the Arab world, students used to pay him a falafel sandwich for a drawing. In the 1970s, support for the arts became a sign of Iraq's new oil wealth.

By the time Sabti graduated from the Fine Arts Academy in 1980, he could earn a good living making paintings on commission from Saddam's government. That work began drying up in the 1990s when the international community imposed sanctions on Baghdad.Since Saddam's fall, he has sold 300 paintings in New York but only 20 in Iraq.

"Who appreciates art? The clergy who call for fighting art and culture? Or the politician who does not understand anything about culture or art?" said Sabti, his fingertips colored with oil paint as he sat in his art gallery, Dialogue, near the Academy."If I changed the gallery into a mosque, I would get financial support. But as long as it is a gallery that displays art it will not get any support."


Inside the academy, sculptures depicting ancient Iraqis or abstract figures cast in plaster are scattered about. Some are broken from neglect or sabotage.Several of the students said that their parents worked in the arts at a time when such work could provide a good living and social prestige. Abdul-Hakim said his father was a painter, and he inherited his love of art from him.

He showed the workshop where he was putting the final touches on a relief of Romeo and Juliet. It was made of clay, waiting for plaster, which the college is supposed to provide but has not made available.Some other students said they shared Hakim's ambition to leave Iraq. Others said they needed more training before they could consider leaving. Most said art and artists in Iraq were not treated with respect or given enough government support.

Ahmed Adnan, a sculpture student, said he wanted to continue his academic study to become a professor at college. He feels hurt by the current lack of respect toward art."If I went abroad and said 'I am an artist" I would get respect, but in Iraq the artist has no value," Adnan said as he sat with female colleagues in a cafe near the academy during the class break.

Omar Falah, a film director who graduated from the academy in 2005 and now lives in his home city of Nassiriya in southern Iraq, made his 2010 film "Sing Your Song" as an elegy for artistic life in southern Iraq.

The film, which has won awards at festivals abroad, tells the true story of a folk singer from Nassiriya named Majid who was forced to give up performing because of the threat of attack by militants. Instead, he has opened a shop selling musical instruments to keep the Iraqi folk music tradition alive.

The film was shown at a human rights film festival in Baghdad last month. Falah told Reuters he fears to show it in Nassiriya because "they will say 'he works against political and religious parties'.""Abroad is better than here," he said. In Iraq, "it is possible that any side could give an opinion, attack you and try you as it wishes - and we cannot do anything."


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Fear as death squads hunt Iraq's gays

The man holds up two pictures of his friend, which tell the story of what it now means to be gay in Iraq.One photograph, which the man keeps on his mobile phone, is a portrait of a handsome youth with a stylish haircut. The other, a printed snapshot taken last month, shows the body of the same young man lying sprawled in the back of a white pickup truck, his head disfigured by blunt trauma.

According to a police report, Saif Asmar was found bludgeoned to death in the afternoon on February 17."They laid him down on the pavement and smashed his head with a cement block," said his 25-year-old friend, who works as a doctor's assistant and also as a gay activist under the pseudonym Roby Hurriya. He did not disclose his real name.

Homosexuals have lived in fear in Iraq for years, notably since religious militia claimed control of the streets in the sectarian warfare that followed the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, which toppled Saddam Hussein. But Hurriya - whose adopted surname means "Freedom" in Arabic - says a surge in killings in the past two months is by far the worst he has seen.

Since the start of this year, death squads have been targeting two separate groups - gay men, and those who dress in a distinctive, Western-influenced style called "emo", which some Iraqis mistakenly associate with homosexuality.At least 14 young men have been bludgeoned to death in the last three weeks in east Baghdad, an area dominated by Shi'ite Muslims, according to local security and medical sources who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Killings have been reported by other methods and in other cities as well. Since national authorities are not recording the incidents as a special category, the total is not known.In recent days, militiamen from Shi'ite groups, mainly in the Sadr City district, have circulated lists of names of people targeted for killings. The threats refer to "obscene males and females", understood to refer to both gays and emos - an American teenage subculture of spiky hair and black clothes that has spread to Iraq.

Hurriya says he believes at least 200 men have been murdered in recent years either for being gay or appearing effeminate. He personally knows 66 of them.During an interview at the Reuters bureau in central Baghdad, he opens a satchel and brings out a series of photographs of bludgeoned corpses of young men found on the streets of Baghdad. He has been documenting the killings and running a safe house for gay men.

"We, as the gay community are connected, like a string. We know if anything bad has happened to any of us," he said."A Shi'ite cleric from Sadr City who is gay called me a few days ago and told me that some gay people were killed and their bodies were dumped near Sadr City. He helped me reach the place and take some photos."


The apparent spread of the violence in recent weeks to heterosexual youth who dress in emo style has caused panic among young Iraqis, many of whom have experimented with various forms of Western dress as war subsided and militia left the streets.Emo, a once-obscure genre of American "emotional" punk rock, became a mainstream subculture in the West in the past decade. In Iraq, it appeals to youth - male and female - hungry for self-expression in a conservative, often violent culture.

Iraqi youths who call themselves emos typically wear long or spiky hair, tight jeans, T-shirts, silver chains and items with skull logos. In recent days they have been rushing to barbers to get their hair cut.Shops which sprouted in recent years selling clothing and jewelry with skulls and band logos have quickly taken down their emo displays.Iraq's government, dominated by the Shi'ite majority that was oppressed under Saddam, may not be helping. The Interior Ministry added to the atmosphere of menace last month by releasing a statement that labeled the emo culture "Satanism". It said a special police force would stamp it out.

Hafidh Jamal, 19, who works in a shoe store in the upscale Karrada neighbourhood, said he used to dress in black with his hair long in the back, but he fled his home in Sadr City this week and cut his hair. Two friends were killed for dressing in the emo style, he said."Let them kill me. They killed my close friends," he told Reuters. "I support emo. I love this phenomenon."


Baghdad's gays are searching for places to hide.One man, who goes by the name Haifa, said he fled Iraq for Syria during the sectarian violence in 2006, but returned to Baghdad two months ago because of war now in Syria.Though homosexual behaviour is widely scorned, even illegal, in much of the Arab and Muslim world, Haifa had been able to live fairly comfortably as a gay man in Syria - as many gays had in Iraq under Saddam's largely secular rule.

But in Baghdad, where clerics who condemn homosexuality as a sin now hold sway, he quickly learned he would be hunted. A picture from a few months ago shows him with long hair and a black T-shirt. He now wears his hair short under a baseball cap and dresses conservatively in a wool coat and rugby shirt."When I returned with shoulder-length hair, everybody, including my family, warned me that with that hair I could be killed. I left my house in Kadhimiya and now I move from place to place, afraid of getting killed," he told Reuters."Some people phoned my brother and said, 'We will kill your brother if we catch him. Please excuse us if we do.'"

Haifa is now trying to get a passport so he can escape Iraq and go to neighbouring Jordan where he hopes he will be safe.Noor, a 19-year-old gay man, fled Baghdad a week ago for Basra in the south, hoping he would be safer, after he heard about the murders."We are young men, and everywhere in Iraq we should be free to do whatever we want, to wear what we like, cut our hair how we like," he told Reuters."We have not hurt anyone. Why are they doing this to us?"
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Artists lament decline in culture
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