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Exhibition of Mahmoud Sabri in London (25th June – 6th July, La Galleria Pall Mall)

محمود صبري

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Mahmoud Sabri (1927-2012)

This summer (25th June – 6th July) a very unique and special exhibition will be held in London: ‘Mahmoud Sabri; a retrospective’. Mahmoud Sabri (1927-2012) was one of the leading artists of Iraq, for many one of ‘the big three’ who were crucial for the Iraqi modern art movement, as mentioned by the Iraqi artist Ali Assaf (Rome), in the introduction of ‘Acqua Ferita’ (‘Wounded Water’), the catalogue of the Iraqi Pavilion at the Venice Biennial of 2011 (see also here on this blog). Unless the other two, Jewad Selim and Shakir Hassan al-Said (also discussed a few times on this blog, like here) the role of Mahmoud Sabri seems almost being erased from history. In most literature he isn’t even mentioned, or at least as a footnote, without showing one of his works. Also for me it was not easy to find a proper reproduction of one of his works, till around 2010, when his daughter Yasmin Sabri (working as a computer scientist based in London) launched a website with many of his works and writings.

The main reason that Sabri seems to be forgotten is that he was a dissident of the regime of the Ba’thparty from the very first moment. When the Ba’thists for the first time came to power, in 1963 , Sabri wrote a manifesto in which he stipulated the fascist nature of the new regime. Immediately after he went into exile. For decades he lived in Prague, during the years of the Cold War, so out of sight of Western critics and exhibition-makers, who started gradually to pay some interest in the modern art of the Middle East. Also later he became for many too much an outsider or exile, to be discussed in the history of the modern art movement of Iraq or the Middle East in general. Although he lived the last decade of his live in London, where many initiatives took place in the field of contemporary art of the Middle East, both in literature as in several exhibitions, his importance for the Iraqi modern art and contemporary art wasn’t really recognised.

He was never forgotten by many Iraqi artists. Very often I heard, when I was interviewing the Iraqi artists in exile here in the Netherlands, that Sabri was one of the greatest pioneers and an important key-figure, in pushing the Iraqi modern art forward. Many of them consider Sabri as a symbolic teacher and a source of inspiration. For example, when in 2000 thirty Iraqi artists, based in the Netherlands, came together to held a group exhibition in The Hague, they dedicated this initiative to Mahmoud Sabri.

For me it is a great pleasure to announce this wonderful initiative by Yasmin Sabri and Lamice el-Amari, professor theatre studies based in Berlin. Later this month I will visit this exhibition myself and will write an extensive article on Mahmoud Sabri, in which I also will discuss this exhibition.

From http://www.lagalleria.org/section697199.html:

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Mahmoud Sabri, 97 percent Human

Mahmoud Sabri

Mahmoud Sabri – A Retrospective

An exhibition of the pioneering Iraqi artist Mahmoud Sabri
25th June – 6th July

The exhibition features the work of the pioneering Iraqi artist Mahmoud Sabri (1927 – 2012) and takes us through his lifetime journey, from his early work that reflected the suffering of the Iraqi people to his pursuit of a new form of art that represented the atomic level of reality revealed by modern science which he termed “Quantum Realism”.
At the age of forty, Sabri started working on the relationship between art and science, and its link to social development. In 1971 he published his Manifesto of the New Art of Quantum Realism (QR). QR is the application of the scientific method in the field of art and graphically represents the complex processes in nature. In his words, “Art is now the last area of human activity to which the scientific method is still not applied”.
His Quantum Realism collection is displayed for the first time in the UK. The exhibition presents a unique opportunity to see a comprehensive collection of Sabri’s work spanning over 4 decades.
Mahmoud Sabri was born in Baghdad in 1927, he studied social sciences at Loughborough University in the late forties. While in England, his interest in painting developed and he attended evening art classes. Following university, he worked in banking and at the early age of 32 he became the deputy head of the largest national bank in Iraq, the Al-Rafidain Bank. He resigned from the bank to take the responsibility for establishing the first Exhibitions Department in Iraq and to set up the first international exhibition in Baghdad in 1960. Following that, he decided to focus on painting, resigned from his job and went to study art academically at the Surikov Institute for Art in Moscow 1961-1963. After the Baathist coup d’état in Iraq (1963), he moved to Prague to join the Committee for the Defence of the Iraqi People. His paintings during that period reflected the suffering of the Iraqi people under that regime. From the late 60s he started working on Quantum Realism and continued to develop it until his death in April 2012 in the UK.
Mahmoud Sabri was a member of the Iraqi Avant-garde artists group. He was a founder member of the Society of Iraqi Artists. He had several publications on art, philosophy and politics (in Arabic and English). He lived most of his life in exile. (More info on QR on www.quantumrealism.co.uk )

Events
29th June, 14:00 – 15:30: Artist Satta Hashem will give a lecture and a guided tour of Sabri’s work
3rd July, 18.00 – 20.00: Symposium – Mahmoud Sabri and art in Iraq. Includes a panel discussion and documentary films

The exhibition is open 25th June – 6th July, 2013
Mon -Saturday: 11:00 – 19:00
Sunday 30th Jun: 12:00 – 18:00
Saturday 6th Jul: 11:00 – 17:00

 

La Galleria Pall Mall
30, Royal Opera Arcade
London SW1Y4UY

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Mahmoud Sabri, extract from ‘Watani’ (My Country), 1960’s

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Mahmoud Sabri, ‘Mother’

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Mahmoud Sabri, Hydrogyn Atom (1990’s)

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Mahmoud Sabri, Air- 2

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Mahmoud Sabri, Water, Salt and Vinegar

More is coming after I visited the exhibition myself. See for more information: http://www.lagalleria.org/section697199.html

More on Mahmoud Sabri: www.quantumrealism.co.uk

Update (2-7-2013): An impression of the exhibition (more details will follow later)

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Mahumoud Sabri, The Hero, oil on canvas, 1963

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photos by Floris Schreve

My Beautiful Enemy; Farhad Foroutanian & Qassim Alsaedy (exhibition Diversity & Art, Amsterdam)

Flyer/handout exhibition (pdf)

قاسم الساعدي و فرهاد فروتنیان

Qassim en Farhad

Farhad Foroutanian and Qassim Alsaedy (photo: Nasrin Ghasemzade)

My Beautiful Enemy  –  دشمن زیبای من  –  عدوي الجميل

Farhad Foroutanian &  Qassim Alsaedy

Mesopotamia and Persia, Iraq and Iran. Two civilizations, two fertile counties in an arid environment. The historical Garden of Eden and the basis of civilization in the ancient world. But also the area were many wars were fought, from the antiquity to the present.The recent war between Iraq and Iran (1980-1988) left deep traces in the lives and the works of the artists

The artists Qassim Alsaedy (Iraq) and Farhad Foroutanian (Iran) both lived through the last gruesome conflict. Both artists, now living in exile in the Netherlands, took the initiative for this exhibition to reflect on this dark historical event, which marked the recent history of their homelands and their personal lives. Neither Farhad nor Qassim ever chose being eachother’s enemies. To the contrary, these two artists make a statement with ‘My Beautiful Enemy’ to confirm their friendship.

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 Farhad Foroutanian, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 2013

Farhad Foroutanian

Farhad Foroutanian (Teheran 1957) studied one and a half year at the theatre academy, before he went to the art academy of Teheran in 1975. At that time the Iranian capital was famous for its hybrid and international oriented art scene. Artists worked in many styles, from pop-art till the traditional miniature painting, a tradition of more than thousand years,  in which  Foroutanian was trained.

After his education Foroutanian found a job as a political cartoonist at a newspaper. During that time, in 1978, the revolution came, which overthrew the regime of the Pahlavi Shah Dynasty. For many Iranian intellectuals and also for Foroutanian in the beginning the revolution came as a liberation. The censorship of the Shah was dismissed and the revolution created a lot of energy and creativity. A lot of new newspapers were founded. But this outburst of new found freedom didn’t last for long; in the middle of 1979 it became clear that the returned Ayatollah Khomeiny became the new ruler and founded the new Islamic Republic. Censorship returned on a large and villain scale and, in case of the cartoonists, it became clear that they could work as long as they declared their loyalty to the message and the new ideology of the Islamic Republic.

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 Farhad Foroutanian, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 2013

The artistic climate became more and more restrictive. In the mid eighties Foroutanian fled his homeland. In 1986 he arrived with his family in the Netherlands.  Since that time Foroutanian manifested himself in several ways, as an independent artist, as a cartoonist and as actor/ theatre maker (most of the time together with his wife, the actress Nasrin Ghasemzade Khoramabadi).

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 Farhad Foroutanian, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 2013

In his mostly small scaled paintings and drawings Foroutanian shows often a lonely figure of a man, often just a silhouette or a shadow, who tries to deal with an alienating or even surrealistic environment. This melancholical  figure, sometimes represented as a motionless observer, sometimes involved in actions which are obviously useless or failing, represents  the loneliness of the existence of an exile. Foroutanian:

“If you live in exile you can feel at home anywhere.  The situation and location in which an artist is operating, determines his way of looking at theworld. If he feels himself at home nowhere,  becomes what the artist produces is very bizarre.

The artist in exile is always looking for the lost identity. How can you find yourself in this strange situation? That is what the artist in exile constantly has to deal with. You can think very rationally and assume that the whole world is your home, but your roots- where you grew up and where you originally belong-are so important.It defines who you are and how you will develop. If the circumstances dictates that you can’t visit the place where your origins are, that has serious consequences. You miss it. You are uncertain if you have ever the chance to see this place again. The only option you have is to create your own world, to fantasize about it. But you can’t lose yourself in this process. You need to keep a connection with the reality, with the here and now.  Unfortunately this is very difficult and for some even something impossible. You live in another dimension. You see things different than others ”.

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 Farhad Foroutanian, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 2013

In his works the lonely figures are often represented with a suitcase. Foroutanian:

“A case with everything you own in it. Miscellaneous pieces of yourself are packed. And the case is never opened. You carry it from one to another place. And sometimes you open the trunk a little and do something new. But you never open the suitcase completely and you never unpack everything. That’sexile”.

Foroutanian emphasizes that his political drawings were for him personally his anker that prevented him to drift off from reality. The concept of exile is the most important theme in Foroutanian’s work, in his paintings, drawings, but also in his theatre work, like Babel (2007) or  No-one’s Land (Niemandsland, 2010). In all his expressions  the lonely figure is not far away, just  accompanied with his closed suitcase and often long shadow.

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 Farhad Foroutanian, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 2013

Foroutanian participated in several exhibitions, in the Netherlands and abroad. He also worked  as a cartoonist for some Dutch magazines and newspapers, like Vrij Nederland, Het Algemeen Dagblad and Het Rotterdams Dagblad. Like Qassim Alsaedy he exhibited at an earlier occasion in D&A.

The quotes of Foroutanian are English translations of an interview with the artist in Dutch, by Floor Hageman, on the occasion of a performance of Bertold Brecht’s ‘Der gute Mensch von Sezuan’ (‘ The Good Person of Szechwan’), Toneelgroep de Appel, The Hague, see http://www.toneelgroepdeappel.nl/voorstelling/153/page/1952/Interview_met_Iraanse_cartoonist_Farhad_Foroutanian

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Qassim Alsaedy, untitled, oil on canvas,  2009

Qassim Alsaedy

Qassim Alsaedy (Baghdad 1949) studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad during the seventies. One of his teachers was Shakir Hassan al-Said, one of the leading artists of Iraq and perhaps one of the most influential artists of the Arab and even Muslim world of twentieth century. During his student years in the seventies Alsaedy came in conflict with the regime of the Ba’th party. He was arrested and spent nine months in the notorious al-Qasr an-Nihayyah, the Palace of the End, the precursor of the Abu Ghraib prison.

After that time it was extremely difficult for Alsaedy to settle himself as an artist in Iraq. Alsaedy: “Artists who didn’t join the party and worked for the regime had to find their own way”. For Alsaedy it meant he had to go in exile. He lived alternately in Lebanon and in the eighties in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he lived with the Peshmerga (Kurdish rebels). When the regime in Baghdad launched operation ‘Anfal’ , the infamous genocidal campaign against the Kurds, Alsaedy went to Libya, where he was a lecturer at the art academy of Tripoli for seven years. Finally he came to the Netherlands in the mid nineties.

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Qassim Alsaedy, untitled, mixed media, 2012/2013

The work of Alsaedy is deeply rooted in the tradition of the Iraqi art of the twentieth century, although of course he is also influenced by his new homeland. The most significant aspect of Alsaedy’s work is his use of abstract signs, almost a kind of inscriptions he engraves in the layers of oil paint in his works. Alsaedy:

“In my home country it is sometimes very windy. When the wind blows the air is filled with dust. Sometimes it can be very dusty you can see nothing. Factually this is the dust of Babylon, Ninive, Assur, the first civilisations. This is the dust you breath, you have it on your body, your clothes, it is in your memory, blood, it is everywhere, because the Iraqi civilisations had been made of clay. We are a country of rivers, not of stones. The dust you breath it belongs to something. It belongs to houses, to people or to some texts. I feel it in this way; the ancient civilisations didn’t end. The clay is an important condition of making life. It is used by people and then it becomes dust, which falls in the water, to change again in thick clay. There is a permanent circle of water, clay, dust, etc. It is how life is going on and on. I have these elements in me. I use them not because I am homesick, or to cry for my beloved country. No it is more than this. I feel the place and I feel the meaning of the place. I feel the voices and the spirits in those dust, clay, walls and air. In this atmosphere I can find a lot of elements which I can reuse or recycle. You can find these things in my work; some letters, some shadows, some voices or some traces of people. On every wall you can find traces. The wall is always a sign of human life”.

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Qassim Alsaedy, untitled, mixed media, 2012/2013

The notion of a sign of a wall which symbolizes human life is something Alseady experienced during his time in prison. In his cell he could see the marks carved by other prisoners in the walls as a sign of life and hope.

Later, in Kurdistan, Alsaedy saw the burned landscapes after the bombardments of the Iraqi army. Alsaedy:

“ Huge fields became totally black. The houses, trees, grass, everything was black. But look, when you see the burned grass, late in the season, you could see some little green points, because the life and the beauty is stronger than the evilness. The life was coming through. So you saw black, but there was some green coming up. For example I show you this painting which is extremely black, but it is to deep in my heart. Maybe you can see it hardly but when you look very sensitive you see some little traces of life. You see the life is still there. It shines through the blackness. The life is coming back”.

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Qassim Alsaedy, untitled, mixed media, 2012/2013

Another important element in Alsaedy’s mixed media objects is his use of rusted nails or empty gun cartridges. For Alsaedy the nails and the cartridges symbolize the pain, the human suffering and the ugliness of war. But also these elements will rust away and leave just an empty trace of their presence. Life will going on and the sufferings of the war will be once a part of history.

His ceramic objects creates Alsaedy together with the artist Brigitte Reuter. Reuter creates the basic form, while Alsaedy brings on the marks and the first colors. Together they finish the process by baking and glazing the objects.

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Qassim Alsaedy, untitled, mixed media, 2012/2013

Since Alsaedy came to the Netherlands he participated in many exhibitions, both solo and group. His most important were his exhibition at the Flehite Museum Amersfoort (2006) and Museum Gouda (2012). He regularly exhibits in the Gallery of Frank Welkenhuysen in Utrecht.

Floris Schreve, Amsterdam, 2013

My Beautiful enemy

28 April- 26 May 2013

O P E N I N G op zondag 28 april om 16.00uur – deur open om 15.00 uur
door Emiel Barendsen – Programma Director Tropentheater

logo Diversity & Art

http://www.diversityandart.com/

Diversity & Art | Sint Nicolaasstraat 21 | 1012 NJ Amsterdam | open: do 13.00 – 19.00 | vr t/m za 13.00 – 17.00

عدوي الجميل

قاسم الساعدي وفرهاد فوروتونيان

يسرنا دعوتكم لحضور افتتاح المعرض المشترك للفنانين قاسم الساعدي ( العراق) وفرهاد فوروتونيان ( ايران ) , الساعة الرابعة من بعد ظهر يوم الاحد الثامن والعشرين من نيسان- ابريل 2013

وذلك على فضاء كاليري دي اند أ

الذي يقع على مبعدة مسيرة عشرة دقائق من محطة قطار امستردام المركزية , خلف القصر الملكي

تفتتح الصالة بتمام الساعة الثالثة

Een kleine impressie van de tentoonstelling (foto’s Floris Schreve):

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Emiel Barendsen (foto Floris Schreve)

Dames en heren, goedemiddag,

Toen Herman Divendal mij benaderde met het verzoek een openingswoord tot u te richten ter gelegenheid van de duo expositie van Qassim Alsaedy en Farhad Foroutanian moest ik een moment stilstaan. Immers, ik ben de man die ruim 35 jaar werkzaam is in de podiumkunsten. Weliswaar altijd de niet-westerse podiumkunsten maar toch…podiumkunsten. Herman vertelde mij toen dat hij graag dit soort gelegenheden te baat neemt om anderen dan de usual suspects hun licht te laten schijnen op de tentoongestelde werken. Mooie gedachte die ik met hem deel.
Als Hoofd Programmering en interim directeur van het helaas opgeheven Tropentheater was ik in de gelegenheid om veel te reizen op zoek naar nieuwe artiesten en producties die wij belangrijk en interessant vonden om aan het Nederlandse publiek voor te stellen. In die queste ben je op zoek naar elementen die aan dat specifieke raamwerk appelleren: nieuwsgierigheid, avontuurlijkheid, vakmanschap en ambachtelijkheid, authenticiteit en identiteit maar bovenal de eigen signatuur van de makers.
Beide kunstenaars hier vertegenwoordigd vertellen ons mede op zoek te zijn naar identiteit, beide zijn gevlucht uit hun moederland , beide delen een gezamenlijk bestaan; een gedwongen toekomst. En identiteit is verworden tot een lastig te hanteren begrip in de Nederlandse samenleving anno nu. Sinds de opkomst van populistische partijen hebben wij de mondvol over dé Nederlandse cultuur en identiteit ; maar waar bestaat die in vredesnaam uit. Ik heb er de canon van Nederland nog een op nageslagen en als je het hebt over kunst en cultuur frappeert de constatering dat het juist de externe influx is geweest – en nog immer is – die ons Nederlands DNA bepaalt. Aan de vooravond van een Koningswisseling constateren we dat na de Duits-Oostenrijkse, Engelse, Franse en Spaanse adel de elite van de nieuwe wereld hun opwachting maakt in de Nederlandse monarchie. De ultieme uiting van globalisering. Argentinië nota bene een land opgebouwd uit door conquistadores verkrachte indianen aangevuld met voor armoe gevluchte Sicilianen, Ashkenazische joden, Duitse boeren , Britse gelukzoekers en nazaten van de Westafrikaanse slaven die – behalve hun ritme – de Rio de la Plata niet mochten oversteken, levert de nieuwe Koningin. Wat is onze Nederlandse identiteit eigenlijk als onze kunsthistorische canon vooral gebouwd is op het –wellicht door pragmatisme ingegeven- asiel dat wij boden aan gevluchte kunstenaars: geen Gouden Eeuw zonder Vlamingen, Hugenoten, Sefardische Joden of Armeniers. ‘Onze’ succesvolste nog levende beeldend kunstenares, Marlene Duma, is van Zuid Afrikaanse oorsprong.
Vanuit mijn vakgebied huldig ik het principe dat men tradities moet begrijpen om het hedendaagse te kunnen duiden. Dit geldt niet alleen voor de podiumkunsten maar in mijn optiek ook voor de beeldende kunst. Traditie als conditio sine qua non voor modernisering.
Over de grenzen kijken betekent vooral eerst jezelf leren kennen; wat vind ik mooi, interessant en vooral waarom? Wat zijn die verhalen die je observeert en hoort en in welke culturele context moet ik die plaatsten?
Je laten leiden door je eigen nieuwsgierigheid levert een grote geestelijke verrijking op.
‘My beautiful enemy’ is de titel van deze expositie en verwijst naar het Irak – Iran conflict uit de jaren tachtig van vorige eeuw. Twee buurlanden gebouwd op de civilisaties en dynastieën die de bakermat van onze beschaving vormen. Een gebied dat een lange geschiedenis van conflicten kent maar waar de culturele overeenkomsten groter blijken te zijn dan de verschillen. In samenlevingen waarin de kunstenaar de mond gesnoerd wordt en waar kritische noten niet meer gehoord mogen worden rest vaak maar één pijnlijke optie: ballingschap. Huis en haard worden verlaten om elders in de wereld een nieuw bestaan op te bouwen. Dit proces is voor iedere balling moeilijk en eenzaam; de geschiedenis verankerd in je geheugen is de basis waar je op terugvalt. Mijmeringen over kleuren, geuren, geluiden en smaken van je geboortegrond bijeengehouden door verhalen.
En dat zie je terug in de hier tentoongestelde werken: als ik de werken van Qassim Alsaedy observeer dan herken ik de vakman die in een beeldende taal abstracte verhalen vertelt die een appèl doen op zijn geboortegrond. Als ik mijn ogen luik verbeeld ik mij het landschap te ruiken en hoor ik bij het ene werk de zanger Kazem al Saher op de achtergrond en bij het andere poëtische werk de oud-speler Munir Bachir zachtjes tokkelen.
Farhad Foroutanian gebruikt een ander idioom en zijn stijl verraadt zijn achtergrond als cartoonist. In ogenschijnlijk een paar klare lijnen zet hij zijn figuren neer in een welhaast surreëel decorum. De man met de koffers doet mij terugdenken aan mijn eigen jeugd die ik doorbracht in Zuid-Amerika. Toen aan de vooravond van de gruwelijke Pinochet-coup in Chili de dreiging alsmaar toenam zetten mijn ouder twee koffers klaar waarin de meest noodzakelijke spullen zaten om eventueel te moeten vluchten. Paspoorten en baar geld, kleding en toiletartikelen. Wij moesten niet vluchten, gelukkig, maar werden wel verzocht het land te verlaten. Onze nieuwe bestemming werd het door een burgeroorlog geteisterde Colombia en hoewel dat geweld voornamelijk in de jungle ver van de grote steden plaatsvond waren er momenten dat dat geweld angstig dichtbij kwam. En weer stonden die twee koffers onder handbereik.
Zo blijkt dat deze werken prikkelen en vragen stellen. Het is aan het individu echter om daar invulling aan te geven . Daarover te praten met anderen levert vanzelf weer nieuwe verhalen op.
In een tijd waarin de overheid net doet of diversiteit niet meer van deze tijd is en moedwillig aanstuurt op ondubbelzinnige eenvormigheid ben ik blij dat er nog een plek in Amsterdam is waar men deze prachtige kunst kan aanschouwen.
Ik besluit met het motto “tegenwind is wat de vlieger doet stijgen” en wens Qassim en Farhad alle goeds toe. En u als publiek veel kijkgenot.

Dank u.
Emiel Barendsen

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Farhad Foroutanian en Qassim Alsaedy (foto Floris Schreve)

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In Front (left): Qassim Alsaedy, the Dutch/Iraqi Kurdish writer Ibrahim Selman and the actress Nasrin Ghasemzade (the wife of Farhad Foroutanian)

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Bart Top, Farhad Foroutanian and Ishan Mohiddin

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The Iraqi Kudish artists Hoshyar Rasheed and Aras Kareem (who exhibited in D&A before, see here and here), Ishan Mohiddin and Jwana Omer (the wife of Aras Kareem)

De Volkskrant (vrijdag 3 mei 2013):

Volkskrant

Iraq returns to the Venice Bienial – Irak weer terug op de Biënnale van Venetië – العراق يعود إلى بينالي البندقية

http://jungeblodt.comhttp://onglobalandlocalart.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/

Acqua Ferita / Wounded Water

The Iraqi Pavilion at the Venice Bienial/Het Paviljoen van Irak op de Biënnale van Venetië/ الجناح العراقي في بينالي البندقية

After an absence of thirty-five years, Iraq finally again is represented at the Venice Biennial. Although the situation in Iraq is far from favorable for artists and the circumstances are still very difficult (albeit in a different way than under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein), the Iraqi pavilion at the Biennale is probably something hopeful. Probably because it seemed not have been easy to achieve this. Ali Assaf, the in Italy living Iraqi artist who is the main initiator of this project (earlier I spent on this blog some attention on his work in this article in Dutch and see this clip with a compilation of older work), had initially planned an exhibition of artists who are living and working inside Iraq. Because of the insecure circumstances in Iraq (still no government and no guarantees for substantial support) ultimately this plan ended up impossible to realise and the project became an exhibition of six artists from the Iraqi diaspora.

The participating artists are Adel Abidin (Helsinki, born 1973 in Baghdad), Ahmed Alsoudani (New York, born in 1975 in Baghdad), Ali Assaf (Rome, born in 1950 in Basra), Azad Nanakeli (Florence, born 1951 in Arbil , Kurdistan), Halim Al Karim (Denver, born in 1963 in Najaf) and Walid Siti (London, born in 1954 in Dohuk, Kurdistan). The exhibition is curated by Mary Angela Schroth (curator), Vittorio Urbani (co-commisioner) and Rijin Sahakian (Projects Assistant). Honorary President is the world-renowned Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.

The only one of these artists I’ve once personally  met is Halim Al Karim (Ali Assaf I once interviewed by phone about his performance Feet of Sand of 1996, see here). After his escape from Iraq Halim Al Karim spent some time in the Netherlands ( he studied at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam). I met him early summer 2000, when he exhibited in the no longer existing gallery Fi Beiti (which was specialized in artists from the Middle East) in Amsterdam. At that time he made ceramic objects (see this example). Although at that time  he was barely known in the Dutch artscene (in the Middle East he already had a great career), I found his ceramic work had a very special quality. His breakthrough in the West came when he had moved to the United States. This was especially with his photographic work, as shown below. Today, his work is represented in the Saatchi Collection among others (see here)

Anyhow it’s special that this pavilion was created. Here will follow some of the official documentation, supplemented with information and images of the participating artists. In a later context, I will publish an article in English in which I will discuss more extensively some of these artists.

Floris Schreve,  Amsterdam

فلوريس سحرافا
(أمستردام، هولندا)

Click here for the essay of Mary Angela Shroth, curator of the Pavilion of Iraq

Ali Assaf, Al Basrah, the Venice of the East, Mixed Media Installation, 2011 (photo http://jungeblodt.com )

Adel Abidin, Consumptions of War, Video Projection and amorphic installation (photo http://jungeblodt.com )

Walid Siti, Beauty Spot, Mixed Media Installation, 2011 (photo http://jungeblodt.com )

Na een afwezigheid van vijfendertig jaar is Irak weer vertegenwoordigd op de Biënnale van Venetië. Hoewel de situatie in Irak allerminst gunstig is en kunstenaars het daar nog altijd bijzonder zwaar hebben (zij het op een andere manier dan onder de dictatuur van Saddam Hoessein), stemt het Iraakse paviljoen op de Biënnale enigszins hoopvol. Enigszins want het schijnt niet makkelijk geweest te zijn om dit te realiseren. Ali Assaf, de in Italië wonende Iraakse kunstenaar die de belangrijkste initiator van dit project was (eerder besteedde ik op dit blog aandacht zijn werk in dit artikel en zie hier een filmpje met een compilatie van wat ouder werk) was oorspronkelijk van plan om een tentoonstelling samen te stellen van kunstenaars uit Irak zelf. Uiteindelijk bleek dit niet realiseerbaar en werd het een expositie van zes Iraakse kunstenaars uit de Diaspora.

De particperende kunstenaars zijn Adel Abidin (Helsinki, geb. 1973 in Bagdad), Ahmed Alsoudani (New York, geboren in 1975 in Bagdad),  Ali Assaf (Rome, geboren in 1950 in Basra), Azad Nanakeli (Florence, geboren 1951 in Arbil, Koerdistan), Halim Al Karim (Denver, geboren in 1963 in Najaf) en Walid Siti (Londen, geboren in 1954 in Dohuk, Koerdistan). De tentoonstelling werd samengesteld door, naast Ali Assaf, Mary Angela Schroth (curator), Vittorio Urbani (co-commisioner) en Rijin Sahakian (adjunct Projects). Erevoorzitter is de inmiddels wereldwijd befaamde Iraakse architecte Zaha Hadid.

De enige van deze kunstenaars die ik zelf een keer heb ontmoet is Halim Al Karim (Ali Assaf heb ik een keer telefonisch geïnterviewd over zijn performance Feet of Sand uit 1996, zie hier). Na zijn vlucht uit Irak verbleef Halim Al Karim een tijd in Nederland (hij studeerde oa aan de Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam). Ik heb hem ontmoet begin zomer 2000, toen hij exposeerde in de niet meer bestaande gallerie Fi Beiti (gespecialiseerd in kunstenaars uit het Midden Oosten), aan de Prinsengracht in Amsterdam. In die tijd maakte hij keramische objecten (zie dit voorbeeld). Toen was hij nog nauwelijks bekend. Ten onrechte vond ik toen al, want zijn keramische werk had een bijzondere kwaliteit.  Zijn grote doorbraak kwam toen hij naar Denver was verhuisd. Dat was vooral met zijn fotografische werk, zoals hieronder te zien is. Tegenwoordig prijkt zijn werk in oa de Saatchi Collectie (zie hier)

Hoe dan ook is het bijzonder dat dit paviljoen tot stand is gekomen. In dit verband geef ik wat van de officiële documentatie weer, aangevuld met informatie en beeldmateriaal van de participerende kunstenaars. In een later verband zal ik in een nog te verschijnen Engelstalige bijdrage veel dieper ingaan op het werk van oa een aantal van deze kunstenaars.

Floris Schreve, Amsterdam

فلوريس سحرافا
(أمستردام، هولندا)

Pavilion of Iraq
54th International Art Exhibition
la Biennale di Venezia

Iraq’s experimental contemporary artists have never had a chance to present their work for an Iraq Pavilion at the Venice Biennale; the first and last major appearance in 1976 outlined only some of their “modern” artists. The Iraq Pavilion for 2011 will indeed show the world an exciting professionally-curated selection of 6 Iraqi artists from two generations, including various artistic media (painting, performance, video, photography, sculpture/installation).

Ali Assaf, Commissioner for the Pavilion of Iraq 2011

 

Acqua Ferita / Wounded Water
Six Iraqi Artists interpret the theme of water

Site: Gervasuti Foundation, Fondamenta S. Ana (Via Garibaldi) Castello 995, between Giardini and Arsenale
Opening to the Public: June 4, 2011. Closes Nov. 27, 2011 10-6 pm daily except Mondays
Press Preview: June 2, 2011 7 to 9 pm
Commissioner: Ali Assaf
Co-Commissioner: Vittorio Urbani
Curator: Mary Angela Schroth
Organization: Nuova Icona and Sala 1
Media Partner: Canvas Magazine
In collaboration with: Embassy of the Republic of Iraq in Italy, Iraq UN Representation in Rome, Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, corporate and individual patrons and the Iraq Pavilion Patrons Committee

These are extraordinary times for Iraq. The project to create an official country Pavilion for the 54. Biennale di Venezia is a multiple and participatory work in progress since 2004. It is historically coming at a period of great renewal after more than 30 years of war and conflict in that country.

The Pavilion of Iraq will feature six internationally-known contemporary Iraqi artists who are emblematic in their individual experimental artistic research, a result of both living inside and outside their country. These artists, studying Fine Arts in Baghdad, completed their arts studies in Europe and USA. They represent two generations: one, born in the early 1950’s, has experienced both the political instability and the cultural richness of that period in Iraq. Ali Assaf, Azad Nanakeli and Walid Siti came of age in the 1970’s during the period of the creation of political socialism that marked their background. The second generation, to include Adel Abidin, Ahmed Alsoudani and Halim Al Karim, grew up during the drama of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), the invasion of Kuwait, overwhelming UN economic sanctions and subsequent artistic isolation. This generation of artists exited the country before the 2003 invasion, finding refuge in Europe and USA by sheer fortune coupled with the artistic virtue of their work. All six artists thus have identities indubitably forged with contemporary artistic practice that unites the global situation with the Iraqi experience and they represent a sophisticated and experimental approach that is completely international in scope.

The six artists will execute works on site that are inspired by both the Gervasuti Foundation space and the thematic choice of water. This is a timely interpretation since the lack of water is a primary source of emergency in Iraq, more than civil war and terrorism. A documentary by Oday Rasheed curated by Rijin Sahakian will feature artists living and working in Iraq today.

The Pavilion of Iraq has been produced thanks to Shwan I. Taha and Reem Shather-Kubba/Patrons Committee, corporate and individual contributors, Embassy of the Republic of Iraq and generous grants from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, Hussain Ali Al-Hariri, and Nemir & Nada Kirdar.
Honorary Patron is the architect Zaha Hadid.

         

Links en rechts: Adel Abidin, Consumptions of War, Video Projection and amorphic installation

    

Links: Ahmed Alsoudani, Untitled, Charcoal and acrylic on canvas, 2010. Rechts: Ahmed Alsoudani, Untitled, Charcoal and acrylic on canvas, 2011

      

Links: Ali Assaf, Narciso, video installation, 2010. Rechts:Ali Assaf, Al Basrah, the Venice of the East, Mixed Media Installation, 2011

      

Links: Azad Nanakeli, Destnuej (purification), Video Installation, 2011. Rechts: Azad Nanakeli, Au (Water), Mixed Media Installation with audio, 2011

    

Links: Halim al Karim, Hidden Love 1, photograph Lambda Print, 2010. Rechts: Halim Al Karim, Hidden Revolution, video still, 2010

   

Links: Walid Siti, Beauty Spot,  Mixed Media Installation, 2011. Rechts: Walid Siti, Mesa, Mylar mirror, twill tape, nylon fishing line and wood, 2011

Bron en voor veel meer informatie en beeldmateriaal: http://www.pavilionofiraq.org/upload/index.html

In een later verband zal ik nog uitgebreid aandacht besteden aan een aantal van deze kunstenaars.

Floris Schreve
فلوريس سحرافا

Pavilion Of Iraq

54th International Art Exhibition
La Biennale di Venezia

click on logo to visit the website

Azad Nanakeli, Destnuej (purification), video-installatie, 2011

Ali Assaf, Al Basrah, the Venice of the East, Mixed Media Installation, 2011

Adel Abidin, Consumption of War, video, 2011

Halim Al Karim, Nations Laundry, video installatie, 2010-2011

Ahmed Alsoudani, Untitled, Charcoal and acrylic on canvas, 2011

Walid Siti, Mesa, Mylar mirror, twill tape, nylon fishing line and wood, 2011 (detail)

Uit ‘The Wallstreet Journal’ van 24 maart 2011: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704893604576200652720598940.html?mod=WSJ_Magazine_LEFTTopStories

Iraq Comes to Venice

Curator and iconoclast Mary Angela Schroth is spearheading a campaign to return Iraqi art to the prestigious Venice Biennale after a 35-year absence

Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704893604576200652720598940.html#ixzz1PMFU92Df

By MARISA MAZRIA KATZ

[mag411_schroth1] Courtesy of Robert Goff GalleryAHMED ALSOUDANI | The Baghdad-born, New York-based painter (‘Untitled,’ 2007, pictured here) will be among six artists showing work at the Venice Biennale’s Iraq pavilion opening in June.

Walking a provocative tightrope is what American contemporary-art curator Mary Angela Schroth does best. In 1993, with memories of apartheid still fresh, Schroth staged Italy’s first exhibition of South African art, and during the days of glasnost and a collapsing Soviet Union, she presented its first show of perestroika-era Russian artists. And in a move that some might interpret as the ultimate in cultural and political overtures, Schroth is now preparing the return of the Iraq pavilion to the 2011 Venice Biennale after a 35-year hiatus.

[mag411_schroth2] Photograph by Danilo ScarpatiCurator Mary Angela Schroth, photographed at mixed-media artist Ali Assaf’s studio in Rome.

Artists and curators who have worked with Schroth throughout her career, which includes running Rome’s first nonprofit art space, Sala 1 (pronounced “Sala Uno,” Italian for “Room One”), say it’s the native Virginian’s tenacity and inquisitiveness that have shaped her vision since she entered the art world back in 1977.

“With anyone else it would have been impossible,” says Basra-born, Italy-based artist Ali Assaf, who is the commissioner and one of six Iraqi artists presenting work in the pavilion. Bringing his native country back to Venice was a cause he championed for years, but decades of unrest prevented its materialization. “At first it couldn’t be done because of Saddam, but then it became impossible because of the severe fighting and confusion,” he explains.

In 2009, Assaf approached Schroth to curate the pavilion in hopes that the combination of his passion and her trademark ambition would lead Iraq back into the Venice Biennale limelight. “The pavilion, through its artists and collaboration with the new government, is one small, but significant step,” Schroth says. “It is an important symbol for change.”

[mag411_schroth3] Courtesy of Azad NanakeliAZAD NANAKELI | Stills from the Florence-based artist’s video installation ‘Destnuej’ (2011)

In the two years since, Schroth, 61, has worked with Assaf to select artists who represent a cross-section of intergenerational talent from the Arab nation. But with the exodus of much of the country’s creative class, as well as today’s fragile security situation, choosing artists currently residing in Iraq proved unfeasible.

“Getting Iraqi artists [who live in Iraq] is not an easy job,” says Iraq’s ambassador to the U.N. agencies in Rome, Hassan Janabi. “It could be tedious and possibly create friction. Instead, they sought out artists living on the outside who could truly reflect what constitutes an Iraqi artist.” The list includes New York–based Ahmed Alsoudani, who will simultaneously show several paintings inside the nearby Palazzo Grassi, and the London-based Kurdish artist Walid Siti.

[mag411_schroth4] Courtesy of Walid SitiWALID SITI | ‘Family Ties’ (April 2009), an installation in Dubai by the London-based artist

The title of the pavilion, “Acqua Ferita”—or “wounded water” in Italian—was selected to shift the Iraq conversation away from war and onto one many view as equally significant. “Terrorism is a theme people are fed up with,” Assaf says. “There are other problems, such as water loss in the region, that no one thinks about.” The concept drew support from Janabi, who was at the time an official adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources. “Vast areas once covered with water are now desert,” Janabi says. “Water is life and this life has been taken away. This is critical and it’s now diminishing.”

Although some might chafe at the idea of an American curating the Iraq pavilion, contentious nationality issues have always remained far outside Schroth’s purview. “My nomadic life means I have more in common with these artists than a normal curator,” she says.

Indeed, it has been more than three decades since Schroth lived in the U.S. Her departure for Europe came on the heels of a five-year stretch working as an assistant at CBS under the helm of Walter Cronkite, covering events like Watergate, the end of the Vietnam War and the election of Jimmy Carter.

[0411Karim] Courtesy of Halim al-KarimHALIM AL-KARIM | ‘Hidden War’ (1985), a triptych by the U.S.-based photographer.

Her first destination was Normandy, France. Although Schroth had no formal art training, her enthusiasm led her to some of the country’s most off-the-map art happenings—the most fruitful of which was a collaboration with French contemporary artist Joël Hubaut. Together they established the independent art space Nouveau Mixage, hedged inside an abandoned garage in the center of Caen. It was there Schroth learned how to become an “artist’s producer,” or someone, she explains, “who could translate their projects into reality.”

While living in France, Schroth met the commissioner of the U.S. pavilion at the 50th Venice Biennale, Kathleen Goncharov, and the two have since traveled to remote biennials and art events around the world. “My investigations to countries outside the Eurocentric context have been a big part of my identity in my work with contemporary art,” Schroth says.

With the impending closure of Nouveau Mixage, Schroth relocated to Rome. She arrived in a city replete with sweeping, historic charm, but a flatlining contemporary art scene. “Rome was a backwater,” Schroth says. “It didn’t have in the early 1980s what it has today. It just wasn’t interested in international contemporary art.”

[mag411_schroth6] Courtesy of Adel AbidinADEL ABIDIN | Still from ‘Three Love Songs’ (2010-11), a video installation at Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar.

A lack of galleries and independent spaces forced Schroth to spend her first year scouring the city for artists and setting her sights on transforming disused spaces into art hubs. One of the first such shows exhibited the work of Italian and British artists in abandoned, underground bathroom stalls in a central Roman piazza. The event, which still retains a kind of cult status in Italy today, proved to be one of the most pivotal in Schroth’s career, as it facilitated her introduction to sculptor and Passionist priest Tito Amodei.

Amodei’s art studio was housed inside a vaulted, former basilica compound owned by the Vatican. Inside the complex was also the 800-square-foot Sala 1 gallery that he used for sculptural exhibitions. He had for some time been on a desperate hunt for a director to take over the space. “Back then it wasn’t cool to be connected to the Catholic Church,” Schroth says. “Many didn’t think it could be a viable art space, but it just needed a curatorial jumpstart. Like any place, it was just a container unless you had a vision.” And so in 1985, Schroth assumed the role of director at Sala 1. The only rules for running the space, explains the now 85-year-old Amodei, were: “No politics. No religion. No Vatican. Only culture.”

Keeping their distance from their landlord, which meant never asking for financial assistance, has enabled Sala 1 to maintain a large degree of creative freedom—best exemplified in a succession of groundbreaking exhibitions. These include the 1995 “Halal” show, the first display of contemporary Israeli artists in Italy, and collaborating with the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2006 to present the U.S.’s first show of comic books hailing from Africa.

[mag411_schroth7] Courtesy of Ali AssafALI ASSAF | ‘Waters!’ (2009), an installation at Sette Sale in Rome.

Now with the 2002 opening of MACRO, the contemporary art museum and galleries, including an outpost from powerhouse dealer Larry Gagosian, Rome is beginning to take hold as a serious contemporary-art center. “At a time when Rome had mostly sleepy institutions, she was one of the only people working with emerging talent,” says Viktor Misiano, former contemporary-art curator at the Pushkin Museum and co-curator of “Mosca: Terza Roma,” Schroth’s 1988 exhibition of Russian art. “She is one of the few that had the courage to do something unusual.”

As if to underscore Schroth’s unremitting energy, she is also curating the first-ever Bangladesh pavilion for this summer’s Venice Biennale, which coincides with the country’s 40th anniversary. Both Bangladesh and Iraq will be housed in the Gervasuti Foundation, an artisan’s workshop in a construction zone in central Venice.

“For me being with the artist is as good as it gets,” says Schroth in a still-thick Southern accent. “And although sometimes it’s not perfect, in the end, they give you what I call illumination.”

“Which,” she adds, “just so happens to be the theme of this year’s Biennale.”

—The 54th Venice Biennale will run from June 4 to November 27, 2011.

Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704893604576200652720598940.html#ixzz1PMEloVln

3/18. Bezoekers bekijken een kunstwerk van de Irakees Azad Nanakeli. Foto AFP / Filippo Monteforte (NRC, zie http://www.nrc.nl/inbeeld/2011/06/04/de-54e-biennale-van-venetie/ )

Ali Assaf, detail of Al Basra, the Venice of the East, video of oil soaked birds of the Gulf oil spill, accompanied by children’s songs (source http://www.artandpoliticsnow.com/2011/06/venice-biennale-2011-first-installment-the-iraqi-pavillion/ )

Ahmed Alsoudani, Untitled, Charcoal and acrylic on canvas, 2011

Ali Assaf, Narciso, video installation, 2010

Halim al Karim, Hidden Love 3, Photograph Lambda Print, 2009

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/jun/02/venice-biennale-iraqi-voice

Venice Biennale gives voice to Iraqi diaspora and struggling younger artists

Iraq’s first pavilion for 34 years is about trying to change perceptions of a dictatorship-scarred and war-wounded country

Charlotte Higgins

Venice Art Biennale - Iraqui Pavilion

Azad Nanakeli’s Acqua ferita/ Wounded Water at the Iraqi pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Photograph: Christian Jungeblodt

“I want to create, I want to show the world what I am capable of, but I cannot.” So says a 16-year-old Iraqi photographer, as Iraq fields its first pavilion for 34 years at the Venice Biennale.

The words of Ayman Haider Kadhm are part of a short documentary that looks at the experiences of three young Iraqi artists struggling to find a voice in a war-ravaged country.

He talks of his camera being confiscated by the security forces. “Do I look like a terrorist? I am only a photographer who wants to record life.”

In fact the main installation of the Iraq pavilion contains work only by members of the Iraqi diaspora, most of whom left in the 1970s to study abroad before the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war.

According to Rijin Sahakian, the Iraqi-born, American head of the Echo cultural foundation, another supporter of the pavilion: “There has been a severance of training, and an isolation for decades compounded by a newfound violence.

“That’s why all the artists here are part of the diaspora. It’s been fractured for years, and the last 10 years have been the final blow.”

The biennale may be a critical event for visual arts, but – with its national pavilions – it also has inescapable overtones of soft diplomacy. Iraq’s presence is also about trying to change perceptions of a dictatorship-scarred and war-wounded country.

Azad Nanakeli left his home city of Arbil in Kurdistan aged 23 to study in Baghdad and then Florence – and stayed in Italy. He has created a film work and a sculptural installation exploring the pavilion’s water theme.

It is, he says, “a great thing to have a space here. In 1976 Iraq was present at the biennale but it was more political and belonged to the regime”.

The curator, Mary Angela Schroth, agrees. “I want people to see the work of these artists and see that there are some untold stories. And I want people to see Iraq not as a 30-year conflict zone but like any other country.

“We have deliberately got away from the war – we want to give it an identity, an identity that it has lost since the Saddam dictatorship.

“In two years it could be more than a reality to show Iraqi work made in Iraq. But at the moment young Iraqis can’t leave the country. It is very difficult for artistic practice – the country is essentially destroyed.”

The pavilion is funded by the Iraq government and a handful of private sponsors including Total, the oil company. Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-British architect, is its patron.

The artists argue that culture is necessary as a means of expression after a traumatic period in its history.

According to Nanakeli, after the war: “We thought we’d get freedom. Now we have a big problem when we speak about contemporary culture. The government doesn’t give a lot of space for art, theatre, cinema and that is terrible for Iraqis.

“If we are to grow as a country we need to think about all areas of life. My hope is that there will be a future for artists, poets and writers.”

Sahakian adds: “People have been silenced for so long. Art is a crucial tool for talking about what’s happened, for self-expression, for the documenting of personal experience.”

The London-based Walid Siti, who left his native Duhok in 1976 to study in Baghdad and then Ljubljana in Slovenia, has created a pair of linked sculptural installations which look at the rivers of Iraq.

“To have a show in Venice is important – to say that there is something positive. The water metaphor, it can bring us together.”

He talks about the subject of one of his pieces: the river Azab, which rises in Turkey, flows through Kurdistan and then flows “like a vein – a kind of symbol of life and continuity” to the Tigris.

“In Iraq it is very hard for artists. Religious groups are pressurising the government to close to close down art, theatre, dance organisations.

“But people are coming up with ideas. For better or worse, what Iraq has been through is a source of ideas.”

The Iraq pavilion is at Gervasuti Foundation, Castello 995, Venice, from Saturday until 27 November

Interview with Ali Assaf (in Italian), http://www.blarco.com/2011/06/il-fascino-del-padiglione-delliraq-alla.html

http://haunchofvenison.com/films/ahmed_alsoudaniwounded_water/

Ahmed Alsoudani:
Wounded Water

Film

Wounded Water: a short film with Ahmed Alsoudani from Haunch of Venison on Vimeo.

14 June 2011

Ahmed Alsoudani talks about his participation in ‘Wounded Water’, the Pavilion of Iraq, at the 54th Venice Biennale.

After a 35-year hiatus, 2011 marks Iraq’s triumphant return to the Venice Biennale. In an exhibition curated by Mary Angela Schroth, the 2011 Iraq Pavilion will present to the world six internationally celebrated Iraqi artists, including Haunch of Venison’s Ahmed Alsoudani (b.1975), an emerging artist whose paintings of war and human conflict have garnered him international attention and broad critical applause. The artists in the exhibition span two generations: Ali Assaf, Azad Nanakli, and Walid Siti were born in the 1950s and experienced periods of vast cultural richness and creativity in the country despite political turmoil; Ahmed Alsoudani, Abel Abidin and Halim Al Karim grew up during the Iran-Iraq War, the Invasion of Kuwait and daily life under intense UN sanctions and the tyrannical Ba’athist regime. The exhibition, entitled Acqua Ferita/Wounded Water, revolves around the six artists’ interpretations on the theme of water loss in the region through diverse mediums including painting, performance, video, photography, sculpture and installation art. According to Schroth, “The pavilion, through its artists and collaboration with the new government, is one small, but significant step.” The Iraq Pavilion will open on 2 June 2011 and is located at the Gervasuti Foundation, Fondamenta S. Ana (Via Garibaldi), Castello 995, between Giardini and Arsenale.

Back to Films

  • Haunch of Venison © 2011

The New York Times, 3-6-2011,  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/fashion/middle-eastern-artists-at-the-venice-biennale.html?_r=3&ref=middleeast

The Art World’s New Darlings

Jessica Craig-Martin for The New York Times

AFLOAT Ahmed Alsoudani, left, poses for Adel Abidin.

By JULIA CHAPLIN
Published: June 3, 2011

//

Adel Abidin and Ahmed Alsoudani, the young artists who represent Iraq at the 54th Venice Biennale, were sitting on the terrace of the Bauer Hotel here at dusk on Wednesday, studying their elaborately hand-written invitations to a private dinner given by François Pinault, the French billionaire. How would they cross the water to San Giorgio Maggiore Island?

Jessica Craig-Martin for The New York Times

NETWORKING Ahmed Alsoudani, left, with Isabelle de La Bruyère at a Venice Biennale party.

It is the first time since 1976 that Iraq has participated in the prestigious art gathering. With Egypt, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia all showing there (a first for Saudi Arabia), Middle Eastern art was Topic A among the gaggle of oligarchs, aristocrats and movie stars who gathered for three days of frantic partying and private viewings before the fair’s official opening on Saturday.

So it wasn’t surprising when Yvonne Force Villareal, a founder of the Art Production Fund in New York, offered them a ride on her private water taxi, along with the photographer Todd Eberle, the socialite Anne McNally, and Bruno Frisoni, the shoe designer. They piled in, a tangle of gowns and glitter, and sped across the choppy waterways, which were clogged with other party commuter craft.

When they docked at the Cini Foundation, an opulent former Benedictine monastery, Mr. Pinault himself stood at the arched entrance shaking hands with a long line of about 1,000 guests that included Anna Wintour, Charlotte Casiraghi, Jeff Koons and Dasha Zhukova.

Mr. Abidin, 38, is the less active networker of the two artists. He seemed to defy Mr. Pinault’s cocktail-attire dress code, wearing Vans, striped ankle socks and a scarf over a pink button-up shirt. He was coming from a scrappy, laid-back party for a pan-Arabian exhibition, held in a sprawling old salt storage facility, and was eager to return to his friends there.

Mr. Alsoudani, 36, on the other hand, was in his element, and seemed to know every other curator and collector. His abstract paintings, which touch on themes of violence and war, are collected by Charles Saatchi and Mr. Pinault, a frequent visitor to his studio. “François said he liked my pants,” said Mr. Alsoudani, who wore a pair of snug-fitting Dior trousers, a white vest and a hat.

The two — the youngest of six artists who represent the Iraq Pavilion’s exhibition, “Wounded Water” — came of age during the Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait and the rule of Saddam Hussein. Both now live in the West (Mr. Abidin in Helsinki and Mr. Alsoudani in New York City), but their works reference a collective memory of strife and hardship — in Mr. Abidin’s case, with a touch of humor. They had met for the first time that evening and seemed to inhabit opposite spectrums of the art world, one bling, the other purist, although they agreed about the changing Middle East.

“The revolution in the Middle East has made me believe that we still have the capacity for believing in our dreams,” Mr. Abidin said, referring to the Arab Spring. “Change is beautiful.”

The two artists had been sought after in Venice, receiving invitations to palazzo dinners and a decadent reception hosted by Ms. Zhukova, Neville Wakefield and Alex Dellal at the Bauer.

Inside the monastery, Mr. Pinault’s party was in high gear, extravagant even by Biennale standards: more candles than a Sting video, banquet tables piled with basil risotto and sparkling rosé, and long tables stacked with exotic cheeses.

Young aristos flitted about the gardens in Balenciaga and Lanvin. Seated at one table were Isabelle de La Bruyère, a regional specialist from Christie’s, and Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi from the Emirate of Sharjah. “Come sit with us!” they called to Mr. Alsoudani and Mr. Abidin, who was chatting with Lisa Phillips, the director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York.

“Middle East art is definitely trendy right now,” Mr. Alsoudani said. “But the truth is there is no Chinese art scene, or Indian art scene or Middle East. It’s easier to categorize it that way. The world is getting smaller and all art is judged by the same international standard.”

By 11 p.m., about two hours in, the crowd had mellowed and the BlackBerry typing began. Maurizio Cattelan was hosting a party for his magazine Toilet Paper on San Servolo Island. Others were heading to the Bungalow 8 pop-up club at Hotel Palazzina Grassi and others back to the Bauer.

Mr. Abidin refilled on red wine but seemed disillusioned by all the glitz. “I don’t like Venice,” he said. “I got divorced here and then had two breakups.” He returned to the pan-Arabian party on a boat with a D.J. and no dress code.

Mr. Alsoudani stayed behind. He hit the cheese table and his dealer, from Haunch of Venison, invited him to a party on a yacht hosted by the French collectors Steve and Chiara Rosenblum. “Isn’t Venice fantastic?” he said, contemplating all his choices.

A version of this article appeared in print on June 5, 2011, on page ST1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Art World’s New Darlings.

An exhibition of Halim al Karim in the Darat al-Funun, Amman, 2010

May 2010
Halim Al Karim’s work is a response to the artist’s own unimaginable experiences and his ongoing observation of the turmoil in Baghdad. Al Karim’s artistic approach is as an outward projection of his inner-consciousness and an expression of spiritual awakening. This exhibition presents a series of triptychs with blurred faces. Some are well known figures; others are film stills, artworks, or artifacts from his homeland. The identities of the figures seem immaterial with Al Karim’s out of focus photography technique; blurring their identities to emphasize the un-kept promises of freedom. In the series Witness from Baghdad, the artist highlights the non existence of a passive witness in times of war. Their striking, life-like eyes which reference Sumerian sculptures are proof that these quiet intangible faces are alive and well aware of what is happening around them. The works on show witness the evolving mentality of urban society in present day Iraq

Unveiled (Saatchi-Collection): http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/artists/halim_karim.htm?section_name=unveiled

SELECTED
WORKS BY Halim Al-Karim

 

Click on the images to
enlarge
Halim
Al-Karim

Hidden War

1985
Lambda print

138 x 324 cm

Hidden War

Iraqi artist Halim Al-Karim underwent a harrowing experience
during the first Gulf War. Opposing Saddam’s regime and its compulsory military
service he took to hiding in the desert, living for almost 3 years in a hole in
the ground covered by a pile of rocks. He survived only through the assistance
of a Bedouin woman who brought him food and water and taught him about gypsy
customs and mysticism. Al-Karim has since emigrated to America, however, these
events have had a profound effect on his life and form the basis for his art
practice.

Halim
Al-Karim

Hidden Face

1995
Lambda print

138 x 300 cm

Hidden Face

In this body of work, Al-Karim presents a series of triptychs,
each comprised of three faces. Some are well known figures, such as Saddam
Hussein in Hidden Face, others are film stills, artworks, or artifacts.
Presented as enlarged panels their distortion is compounded,
raising the
question not of what they represent but of their deeper meaning and
interconnectivity. Hidden Face was made in 1995, years before the
famous photo of Saddam in custody; the figure is in fact made up, based on how
Al-Karim imagined the dictator would look in the future. The two flanking out of
focus figures are suggestive of world leaders – still in power – whose support
of Saddam’s regime has been forgotten. Al-Karim has blurred their identities to
show the duplicity of their motives, scripting them as anonymous accomplices who
will never stand trial.

Halim
Al-Karim

Hidden Prisoner

1993
Lambda print

158 x 369 cm

Hidden Prisoner

In this series of work, photography is used for its
non-physical qualities: a medium which quite literally creates an image from
light, capturing the transient and interwoven nature of time and
memory. The
Sumerian artifacts featured in Al-Karim’s Hidden Prisoner and
Hidden Goddess were photographed in the Louvreand the British Museum;
Al-Karim describes seeing them internedbehind glass, far away from their home,
as a painful reminder ofvisiting his friends and family who were held as
political prisonersat Abu Ghraib during Saddam’s
regime.

Halim
Al-Karim

Hidden Theme

1995
Lambda print

138 x 300 cm

Hidden Theme

Al-Karim’s Hidden series is a response to the artists
own unimaginable experiences and his ongoing observances of the turbulences in
his homeland. With pieces titled Hidden War, Hidden Victims, Hidden
Witnesses
, Al-Karim raises the awareness of not only the devastating
effects of violence, but its many manifestations – both physical and
psychological – from the political to the economic and domestic. His works adopt
a skewed sense of scale and resolve to conceptually shift between the macro and
the micro, the societal and individual, physical and emotive, offering a
tranquil and meditative pause and space for reflection and
catharsis.

Halim
Al-Karim

Hidden Victims

2008
Lambda print

186 x 372 cm

Hidden Victims

Al-Karim merges aspects of Sufism – such as the belief in
Divine Unity – with obsolete traditions, especially those of ancient Sumer, the
grand empire which ruled in what is now Iraq from 6000-4000 BC. Sumerian symbols
often appear in his images, and his photographs
of women are in part
inspired by a ritual which could elevate girls to the status of
goddesses.

Halim
Al-Karim

Prisoner Goddess

1993
Lambda print

124 x 372 cm

Prisoner Goddess

Al-Karim’s approach to image-making is as an outward projection
of his inner-consciousness and a visual manifestation of spiritual awakening and
serenity. His evasive dream-like images evoke a range of instinctual emotive
responses, the ability of true perception existing as a preternatural power
within each of us, which can be understood and harnessed through the pursuit of
metaphysical enlightenment.

Halim
Al-Karim

Hidden Witnesses

2007
Lambda print

138 x 300 cm

Hidden Witnesses
Halim
Al-Karim

Hidden Doll

2008
Lambda print covered with white
silk

200 x 360 cm

Hidden Doll

In pieces such as Hidden Doll, Al-Karim presents his
photographs beneath a tautly stretched layer of white silk fabric that operates
as both a physical veil masking the portraits and a metaphorical filter or
screen. This ‘barrier’ between viewer and image can be conceived as a liminal
space, a transcendental portal between being and becoming, where the mystical
properties of change take place.

Halim
Al-Karim

Hidden War 2

2003
Lambda print covered with white
silk

200 x 330 cm

Hidden War 2

Themes of reconciliation are central to Al-Karim’s work, both
emotionally and in relation to Sufi tradition, where faith is inwardly focused
and strives for unity between consciousness and God.
Contradictions and
juxtapositions occur within his photos, but rather than creating tension, they
have harmonious effect. As faces line up: beautiful and garish, monstrous and
innocent, wizened and puerile, they form single conglomerate portraits, each
segment completing the next, contributing to the understanding of the whole. In
Hidden War 2, Al-Karim has covered his images with a transparent layer
of cloth, urging the viewer to consider the hidden agendas behind the
legitimising rhetoric of those who support the war

Halim Al Karim, Ashbook, porcelain and ash, 1999 (made in the time he lived in Amsterdam)

earlier work of Walid Siti

http://www.walidsiti.com/work/installation/constellation/constellation.htm

Constellation 2009

PlanetK, The 53rd International Art Exhibition, Venice

Board, emulsion paint, plaster, thread and nails.

Constellation is a large wall-based installation comprising the contours of a white mountain surrounded by constellations of black threads. The connections between the mountain and the black threads draw a parallel with an imagined cosmic world with many associations and metaphorical references to the memory of a physical landscape. The white mountain top in the centre of the work acts as a magnetic force that energises and coordinates the movements of the other elements, suggesting a network of dynamic links between the constituent parts. Constellation is an attempt to go beyond a superficial understanding of the physical elements of the work and to aspire towards an ideal landscape.

Constellation incorporates ideas and forms from ‘Precious Stones’ and ‘Family Ties’ – series of my drawings and paintings that preoccupied my work for over ten years. Both series focus on the significance of various symbols and forms such as stones, fire, cubes and circles, which both characterise the collective cultural identity of the Kurdish people and highlight the universal plight of the exile – physically distant though always emotionally close to home.

The work also plays metaphorically on the astrological meaning of constellation, allowing different readings and interpretations. The four arbitrary sets of constellations within the work are fragmented and incomplete, reflecting a state of contradiction and conflict in reality. This gives the work a new perspective and invites the viewer to contemplate and interpret it within a new context.

Walid Siti , London 2009

 

<< Back

Walid Siti, Suspended Mountains 2010, 400x400x600cm, Canvas tube, wire, pols
Serdem Gallery, Suleymania

From the very beginning, mountains, rocks, and stones—in all their  diverse forms and shapes—have been a constant source of inspiration for my  work. I use them as metaphors, visual forms that convey my ideas about and  associations with political, social, and cultural topics as well as issues of  identity. These are the themes that concern me and that have shaped and  influenced my art and my life.

      

Earlier works of Ahmed Alsoudani

http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/artists/ahmed_alsoudani.htm

We Die Out of Hand

Ahmed Alsoudani

We Die Out of Hand

2007
Charcoal, pastel and acrylic on paper

274.3 x 243.8 cm

During the first Gulf War, Ahmed Alsoudani fled to Syria
before claiming asylum in America. Through his paintings and drawings he
approaches the subject of war through aesthetics. Citing great artists of the
past such as Goya and George Grosz whose work has become the lasting
consciousness of the atrocities of the 19th and 20th centuries, Alsoudani’s
inspiration comes directly from his own experiences as a child, as well as his
concerns over contemporary global conflicts. In We Die Out Of Hand, the
earthy background sets the stage for dreary prison gloom, while hooded figures
are obliterated through mercilessly violent gestures, insinuating the horrors of
Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay with exquisite and torturous beauty.

You No Longer Have Hands

Ahmed Alsoudani

You No Longer Have Hands

2007
Charcoal, pastel and acrylic on paper

213.4 x 274.3 cm

Alsoudani executes his works with a raw physicality, using
materials such as paint and charcoal in an unorthodox way, often painting over
drawing and vice versa. You No Longer Have Hands is spread over two
large pieces of paper, the seam down the middle operating literally as a divide.
Like many of Alsoudani’s images, there are no people in this work, rather the
concepts of violence are presented as something too large and abstract to
comprehend. Instead a graffiti strewn wall provides a hint of humanity against a
raging black mass, torrential, abject and bereft.

Untitled

Ahmed Alsoudani

Untitled

2007
Oil, acrylic, ink, gesso on canvas

182.9 x 213.4 cm

Untitled

Ahmed Alsoudani

Untitled

2008
Oil, acrylic, charcoal gesso on canvas

213 x 184 cm

Alsoudani’s Untitled is barely recognisable as a portrait.
Mixing charcoal with paint, the surface evolves as a dirty corporeal mass, as
pure colours become tinged by sooty dust and paint drips down the canvas in
contaminated streams. Describing what might be a head, Alsoudani offers up an
anguished abstraction combining organic textures with geometric forms. Rendering
carnage with an almost cartoon efficacy, Alsoudani summates the base instinct of
destruction as a volume of fleshy fields punctuated by industrial rubble;
hard-edged circles and arcs lend an absurd consumerist familiarity suggesting
windows and bullet holes in the cold pictograph motifs.

Baghdad I

Ahmed Alsoudani

Baghdad I

2008
Acrylic on canvas

210 x 370 cm

“The falling statue of a despot in the centre of Baghdad
I
recalls the toppling of the statue of Saddam. The rooster-like figure
symbolizes America. Here the rooster is not only a figure of control but is
injured as well and constrained. The basket of eggs to the left side of its neck
represents ideas – unhatched ideas in this case; an armory of fragile potential.
Alsoudani’s fascination with molecules and cellular references are apparent in
the central egg-shaped object in the center of the rooster’s belly. The flood
bursting through on the bottom center of the canvas carries Biblical
associations and references the fractured nature of daily life in Baghdad –
nothing works, pipes burst, the city is tacked together, evoked by the large
nails depicted in different parts of the canvas. A figure on the upper right of
the canvas bursts forth in a flourish of pageantry, representing the new Iraqi
government, sprung forth from the chaos, compromised, bandaged and standing
precariously on a teetering stool.” Robert
Goff

Baghdad II

Ahmed Alsoudani

Baghdad II

2008
Acrylic on canvas

250 x 380 cm

Baghdad II depicts a “typical” Baghdad scene: on
the left side of the canvas a car has crashed into an American-built security
wall – another suicide bombing attempt or an act of pure desperation. Stylized
licks of red flame come up from the ground, an eyeball has rolled to the center
of the painting on the bottom. The eyeball plays a role in terms of content and
form but also alludes to Lebanese poet Abbas Baythoon. On the lower right hand
side of the painting a head lies behind bars – this is a reference to a statue
in Baghdad, which here Alsoudani has decapitated and, ironically, brought to
life as an imprisoned figure. One way to read this is that under Saddam’s
dictatorship art was constricted and imprisoned and this idea of censorship is
continually evoked through a layered approach in this work. The female figure in
the center right side of the painting is deliberately drawn in as opposed to
painted, a martyr-figure both carrying and giving birth to change.” Robert
Goff

Untitled

Ahmed Alsoudani

Untitled

2008
Charcoal, acrylic and pastel on paper

270 x 226 cm

Alsoudani’s Untitled mesmerizes with the power and chaos of
an explosion, combining artistic references with combustive force. Reminiscent
of cubist dynamics, Alsoudani approaches his theme of war from every angle,
broaching the incomprehensibility of combat and its repercussions through his
fragmented and turbulent composition. Drawn in charcoal and pastel Alsoudani’s
gestures convey raw passion and intensity with a rarefied elegance, his subtle
shading and ephemeral acrylic washes simultaneously evoking the detailed etching
in Goya’s Disasters of War and the hyper-violent media graphics of Manga
illustrations. Alsoudani negotiates these terrains with unwavering authority,
responding to current events with commanding hindsight to develop contemporary
history painting that’s both high-impact and enduring.

Earlier works of Adel Abidin

Cold Interrogation

Mixed media installation, 2004

A video installation dealing with the dilemma of being an Arab, Muslim and Iraqi individual living in a western society in this period of time.“Since I left my home country Iraq in 2000, I am dealing daily with different questions about my identity”.The work creates an interactive atmosphere, by inviting the viewer to take part in the interrogation.

Examples of the questions:

How did you end up in Finland?How is the situation in Iraq right now?What do you think of Osama bin Ladin?How does it feel to ride a camel?Are you with the war, do you support it?What do you think of the suicide bombers?What do you think of the Americans?And so on…
The viewer can hear to the loud audio of the questions coming from inside the fridge, and see the video through the security peephole fixed on the fridge.

Details:

Country of production: Finland 2004
Duration: 01’00’00 min. (Looping)
Aspect ratio: 4:3
Sound: Stereo
Original Format: mini dv
Screening format: DVD- all / Pal

Images: / 1

Installation view
Installation view

/ 2

Instalation view
Instalation view

/ 3

Installation detail
Installation detail

/ 4

Hopscotch

A video installation, 2009

Hopscotch is a game children play the world over. In Abidin’s work, the squares lead to a gate – into another, unknown world. Abidin associates the work with the Iraq he experienced as child: “In this game, the players are being watched by people who have the power to terminate much more than the game. In a police state, children are taught the ‘rules of the game’ very early on.”

Video details:

8 meters * 4 meters built gate in the museum/ consists of: wood and Plexiglas

duration : 00’02’00 (looping)
Shooting format: Mini DV
Screening format: DVD- all
Aspect ratio: 4:3 (round)

Images: / 1

Installation detail
Installation detail

/ 2

Installation view
Installation view

/ 3

Installation view
Installation view

/ 4

Installation view
Installation view

/ 5

Installation view
Installation view

http://www.abidintravels.com/

I’m Sorry

Sound installation including a light box, 2008

During a recent trip to the US, I met many people from different kinds of educational and social backgrounds. Yet, surprisingly, they all reacted in the same way when I mentioned that I was Iraqi”.

Details:

Country of production: Finland 2008
Sound installation including a light box
Computer programs the sync between the sound and the lights.

JihadVideo piece, 2006

Jihad

Video piece, 2006

http://www.levantinecenter.org/levantine-review/articles/consumption-war-–-adel-abidin-2011-venice-biennale

“Consumption of War” – Adel Abidin at the 2011 Venice Biennale

      posted June 10, 2011 – 1:26pm by Editor
Subtitle:
five Iraqi artists represent their homeland for first time in 35 years

By Lina Sergie AttarIn Consumption of War, the latest installation by Iraqi-Finnish artist Adel Abidin, one stands in a room, between projection and reality, watching an absurd “war” break out between two corporate figures. The film leaves us in physical and metaphoric darkness, questioning not only the artist’s intention but also our implication within the narrative. Throughout his work over the last decade, exploring issues of identity, memory, exile, violence, war and politics, Abidin has harnessed the power of ambiguity.

Iraqi-Finnish artist Adel AbidinIraqi-Finnish artist Adel AbidinThis year, Abidin is one of five Iraqi artists chosen to represent their homeland at the prestigious 54th annual Venice Biennale. It is the first time in 35 years that a pavilion has been dedicated to Iraq. He represented his “other” home, Finland, in 2007 at the Biennale with his acclaimed installation, Abidin Travels, a mock travel agency that advertised the pleasures of visiting war-torn Iraq. The “agency” was complete with all the materials needed to “sell” an exotic locale: glossy brochures with catchy tag lines, “Baghdad: much more than a holiday” and a brightly-colored faux booking website. In the promotional video, Abidin juxtaposes a cheery, female voice with an American accent describing idealized scenes of Iraq’s famous antiquities and architecture against the footage of looted museums and taped executions. Abidin challenges the typical “Western” tourist’s immunity to the images of war by framing the grim reality within the fake packaging of imagined perfection.

"Consumption of War"“Consumption of War”The Pavilion of Iraq’s theme is Wounded Water. Severe water shortages and pollution in Iraq compete with the ongoing war as the deadliest threat to civilian life. The local plight is also a universal one as global corporations encourage consumption on a massive scale for maximum profit, disregarding the obscene amounts of water needed to produce “necessities” such as a pair of jeans or cup of coffee. Abidin is concerned, “In Iraq, major corporations have signed the largest free oil exploration deals in history. Yet while every barrel of oil extracted requires 1.5 barrels of water, 1 out of every 4 citizens has no access to clean drinking water.” Consumption of War explores this environmental crisis from the perspective of the competitive corporate environment.

The work occupies two adjacent spaces, the first a decrepit room with broken plaster exposing a brick structure and unused fixtures jutting out of a tiled wall. We enter, facing a white, bare wall with a stopped office clock. The disorienting light flickers in bright flashes. Between the flickers, we see a filing cabinet and a large poster of a parched landscape. In the second space, we face an office with the same clock projected onto the back wall and a vivid, lush landscape in the background. Two men, almost identical in height, weight and coloring, as typically corporate as the room, begin a duel using the florescent lights as swords. The camera shots oscillate between the main view and extreme close-ups of feet crunching glass, of furniture sliding across the room, of fingers grasping the light tubes, and of mock menacing facial expressions, with fuzzy, black and white surveillance shots sliced between. Everything in the room becomes a prop for the fight, cabinets become platforms, lights become swords, at one point a binder is used as a shield. The childish battle is an exaggerated slow-motion dance, referencing pop culture movies such as Star Wars and The Matrix. The light dims darker as the “light sabers” are shattered one by one, until we are left in darkness.

Abidin constructs a visual interpretation of a modern power struggle within the glorified corporate environment, its immaculate furnishings and model-like workers symbolize the pinnacle of global aspirations. Even the playful way they fight is idealized and sanitized. But these seemingly innocent actions are not without consequence; for every light bulb shattered in vain, resources are lost to the majority of people shut out of the power structure.

In Consumption of War, a room within a room changes scale to become a world within a world, representing the present and the absent, what is now and what will come in the future. Abidin strategically places the viewers in between an unclear future and a weary present. The viewers become participants in a game with no winners. As they leave the darkness back into the flashing alarms of light, the lush landscape dissolves into an illusion, a dream, replaced with the reality of a parched, depleted world. He leaves them with a choice: to idly watch as precious resources are sucked dry or to play a different game and stop the madness.

The Pavilion of Iraq opened as part of the 54th Venice Biennale on June 2nd, 2011 and runs until November 2011. Other artists presented in the pavilion are Halim Al Karim, Ahmed Alsoudani, Ali Assaf, Azad Nanakeli and Walid Siti. Info here.

Lina Sergie Attar is an architect educated in Aleppo, Syria, with graduate degrees from RISD and MIT. She has taught architecture, interior architecture and art history courses in Boston and Chicago. Lina is co-founder of Karam Foundation, NFP, a charity based in Chicago. She blogs at tooarab.com. This is her second article for the Levantine Review.

Azad Nanakeli, Destnuej (purification), video-installatie, 2011

earlier works of Azad Nanakeli

Azad Nanakeli, What is the Question? video-still, 2007

Azad Nanakeli, A Perfect World, 2009

Azad Nanakeli, Destnuej (purification), video-installatie, 2011

Earlier works of Ali Assaf (http://www.aliassaf.com/works.html )

 This image of Head of Nuisance (1983), by Ali Assaf can be found alongside numerous works created by Iraqi artists on the Iraq Memory Foundation website. (Ali Assaf/Iraq Memory Foundation)

Ali Assaf, Head of Nuisance, 1983

Ali Assaf, Him, just Him, everywhere Him, 1985

Ali Assaf, Belsem, installation (mixed media and sound), San Marino, 1991

Ali Assaf, Feet of Sand, performance, 1996

Ali Assaf, I wonder if your barber would agree, object of rubber, glue and human hair (translation of the German text: ‘A Dutch hairdresser once told me the hair of the Europeans has become more and more thin since the last thirty years, but if they mix with migrants of the south of the earth, (their hair) certainly will become strong again’

Ali Assaf, Mujaheed, cibachrome on foamcore, plastified, 1997

  

  

  

Ali Assaf, The obscure object of desire, installation, 2002 (details, click on picture to enlarge)

Ali Assaf, The obscure object of desire, installation, 2002 (overview)

Ali Assaf, Greetings from Baghdad, 2004

Ali Assaf, I am her, I am him, video, 2008

Floris Schreve, Amsterdam

فلوريس سحرافا

(أمستردام، هولندا

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Modern and contemporary art of the Middle East and North Africa

http://onglobalandlocalart.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/modern-and-contemporary-art-of-the-middle-east-and-north-africa-2/

الفن المعاصر في العالم العربي وإيران

Since the recent developments in Tunisia and Egypt and probably to follow in other Arab countries, even the mainstream media have noticed that in the Arab world and Iran there is a desire for freedom and democracy. While in the Western World  often reduced to essentialist clichés of the traditional Arab or the Muslim extremists the recent events show the opposite. The orientalist paradigm, as Edward Said has defined in 1978, or even the ‘neo-orientalist’ version (according to Salah Hassan), virulent since 9 / 11, are denounced by the images of Arab satellite channels like Al Jazeera. It proofs that there are definitely progressive and freedom-loving forces in the Middle East, as nowadays becomes  visible for the whole world.

Wafaa Bilal (Iraq, US), from his project ‘Domestic Tension’, 2007 (see for more http://wafaabilal.com/html/domesticTension.html )

Since the last few years there is an increasing interest in contemporary art from that region. Artists such as Mona Hatoum (Palestine), Shirin Neshat (Iran) and the architect Zaha Hadid (Iraq) were already visible in the international art circuit. Since the last five to ten years there are a number of names added, like Ghada Amer (Egypt), Akram Zaatari and Walid Ra’ad (Lebanon), Fareed Armaly and Emily Jacir (Palestine), Mounir Fatmi (Morocco), Farhad Mosheri ( Iran), Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabia), Mohammed al- Shammerey  and Wafaa Bilal (Iraq). Most of these artists are working and living in the Western World.

Afbeelding49

Walid Ra’ad/The Atlas Group (Lebanon), see http://www.theatlasgroup.org/index.html, at Documenta 11, Kassel, 2002

Mounir Fatmi (Morocco), The Connections, installation, 2003 – 2009, see http://www.mounirfatmi.com/2installation/connexions01.html

Yet the phenomenon of modern and contemporary art in the Middle East isn’t something of last decades. From the end of World War I, when most Arab countries arose in its present form, artists in several countries have sought manners to create their own form of international modernism. Important pioneers were Mahmud Mukhtar (since the twenties and thirties in Egypt), Jewad Selim (forties and fifties in Iraq), or Muhammad Melehi and Farid Belkahia (from the sixties in Morocco). These artists were the first who, having been trained mostly in the West, introduced modernist styles in their homeland. Since that time, artists in several Arab countries draw inspiration from both international modernism, and from traditions of their own cultural heritage.

Shakir Hassan al-Said (Iraq), Objective Contemplations, oil on board, 1984, see http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/nafas/articles/2008/shakir_hassan_al_said/photos/08

Ali Omar Ermes (Lybia/UK), Fa, Ink and acryl on paper

The latter was not something noncommittal. In the decolonization process, the artists often explicitly took a stand against western colonialism. Increasing local traditions here was used often as a strategy. From the late sixties also other factors play a role. “Pan-Arabism” or even the search for a “Pan-Islamic identity” had an impact on the arts. This is obvious in what the French Moroccan art historian Brahim Alaoui  called ‘l’ Ecole de Signe’,  the ‘school of sign’. Abstract calligraphy and decorative traditions of Islamic art, were in many variations combined with contemporary abstract art. The main representatives of this unique tendency of modern Islamic art were Shakir Hassan al-Said (Iraq, deceased in 2004), and the still very active artists as Rachid Koraichi (Algeria, lives and works in France), Ali Omar Ermes (Libya, lives and works in England) and Wijdan Ali (Jordan). This direction found even a three dimensional variant, in the sculptures of the Iranian artist Parviz Tanavoli.

Laila Shawa (Palestine), Gun for Palestine (from ‘The Walls of Gaza’), silkscreen on canvas, 1995

What is particularly problematic for the development of contemporary art of the Middle East are the major crises of recent decades. The dictatorial regimes, the many wars, or, in the case of Palestine, the Israeli occupation,  have often been a significant obstacle for the devolopment of the arts. If the arts were encouraged, it was often for propaganda purposes, with Iraq being the most extreme example (the many portraits and statues of Saddam Hussein speak for themselves). Many artists saw themselves thus forced to divert in the Diaspora (especially Palestinian and Iraqi artists). In the Netherlands there are well over the one hundred artists from the Middle East, of which the majority exists of refugees from Iraq (about eighty). Yet most of these artists are not known to the vast majority of the Dutch cultural institutions and the general public.

Mohamed Abla (Egypt), Looking for a Leader, acrylic on canvas, 2006

In the present context of on the one hand the increased aversion to the Islamic world in many European countries, which often manifests itself  into populist political parties, or conspiracy theories about ‘Eurabia’ and, on the other hand, the very recent boom in the Arab world itself, it would be a great opportunity to make this art more visible to the rest of the world. The Middle East is in many respects a region with a lot of problems, but much is also considerably changing. The young people in Tunisia and Egypt and other Arab countries, who challenged their outdated dictatorships with blogs, facebook and twitter, have convincingly demonstrated this. Let us  have a look at the arts. There is much to discover.

Floris Schreve

Amsterdam, March, 2011

originally published in ‘Kunstbeeld’, nr. 4, 2011 (see here the original Dutch version). Also published on Global Arab Network and on Local/Global Art, my new blog on international art

Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabia), Evolution of Man, Cairo Biennale, 2008. NB at the moment Mater is exhibiting in Amsterdam, at Willem Baars Project, Hoogte Kadijk 17, till the 30th of july. See http://www.baarsprojects.com/

Handout lecture ‘Modern and Contemporary art of the Arab World’

محاضرة الفن الحديث والمعاصر في العالم العربي

Diversity & Art,  Amsterdam, 17-5-2011, at the occasion of the exhibition of the Dutch Iraqi artist Qassim Alsaedy

Click on the pictures to enlarge

Short introduction on the history and geography of the modern Arab World

  • The Ottoman Empire
  • The  Sykes/Picot agreement
  • The formation of the national states
  • The Israeli/Palestinian conflict

  

                       

Ottoman Empire 1739                  Ottoman Empire 1914                   The Sykes/Picot agreement

              

The modern Middle East       The modern Arab World

                         

 Palestinian loss of land 1948-2000    The current situation (2005)

The early modernist pioneers:

            

Mahmud Mukhtar            Jewad Selim

             

Jewad Selim                    Faeq Hassan

Farid Belkahia

The ‘School of Sign’ (acc. Brahim Alaoui, curator of the  Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris):

                   

 Shakir Hassan al-Said               Ali Omar Ermes                              Rachid Koraichi

 

Other examples of ‘Arab Modernism’:

                   

  Mohamed Kacimi                           Dhia Azzawi                                   Rafik el-Kamel

The Palestinian Diaspora:

                        

Mona Hatoum                                    Laila Shawa                                       Emily Jacir

Recently emerged ‘international art’:

                                

 Walid Ra’ad/The Atlas Group           Mounir Fatmi                                     Ahmed Mater

Art and propaganda:

  • Iraq (monuments, Victory Arch, Babylon, portraits of Saddam Husayn and Michel Aflaq, the founder of the Ba’thparty)
  • Syria (portrait Havez al-Assad)
  • Libya (portrait Muammar al-Qadhafi)

      

Victory Arch                               ‘Saddam as Saladin’

                                                

Statue of Michel Aflaq                    Statue of Havez al-Assad                 Muammar al-Qadhafi

The art of the ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt:

          

Mohamed Abla                                Ahmed Bassiony

  

Iraqi artists in the Diaspora:

 

              

Rafa al-Nasiri                             Hanaa Mal Allah                         Ali Assaf

          

Wafaa Bilal                           Halim al-Karim                         Nedim Kufi

                               

Hoshyar Rasheed                            Aras Kareem                          Ziad Haider

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Qassim Alsaedy, Shortly after the War, mixed media (installation) Diversity&Art, May 2011 (see here an interview with Qassim Alsaedy at the opening-in Arabic)

Selected Bibliography

• Brahim Alaoui, Art Contemporain Arabe, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, 1996
• Brahim Alaoui, Mohamed Métalsi, Quatre Peintres Arabe Première ; Azzaoui, El Kamel, Kacimi, Marwan, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, 1988.
• Brahim Alaoui, Maria Lluïsa Borràs, Schilders uit de Maghreb (‘Painters of the Maghreb’), Centrum voor Beeldende Kunst, Gent (Belgium), 1994
• Brahim Alaoui, Laila Al Wahidi, Artistes Palestiniens Contemporains, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, 1997
• Wijdan Ali, Contemporary Art from the Islamic World, Al Saqi Books, London, 1989.
• Wijdan Ali, Modern Islamic Art; Development and continuity, University of Florida Press, 1997
• Hossein Amirsadeghi , Salwa Mikdadi, Nada Shabout, ao, New Vision; Arab Contemporary Art in the 21st Century, Thames and Hudson, London, 2009.
• Michael Archer, Guy Brett, Catherine de Zegher, Mona Hatoum, Phaidon Press, New York, 1997
• Ali Assaf, Mary Angela Shroth, Acqua Ferita/Wounded Water; Six Iraqi artists interpret the theme of water, Gangemi editore, Venice Biennale, 2011 (artists: Adel Abidin, Ahmed Alsoudani, Ali Assaf, Azad Nanakeli, Halim al-Karim, Walid Siti)
• Mouna Atassi, Contemporary Art in Syria, Damascus, 1998
• Wafaa Bilal (with Kari Lydersen), Shoot an Iraqi; Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun, City Lights, New York, 2008
• Catherine David (ed),Tamass 2: Contemporary Arab Representations: Cairo, Witte De With Center For Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, 2005
• Saeb Eigner, Art of the Middle East; modern and contemporary art of the Arab World and Iran, Merrell, Londen/New York, 2010 (with an introduction of Zaha Hadid).
• Aida Eltori, Illuminations; Thirty days of running  in the Space: Ahmed Basiony (1978-2011) , Venice Biennale, 2011
• Maysaloun Faraj (ed.), Strokes of genius; contemporary Iraqi art, Saqi Books, London, 2002 (see here the presentation of the Strokes of Genius exhibition)
• Mounir Fatmi, Fuck the architect, published on the occasion of the Brussels Biennal, 2008
• Liliane Karnouk, Modern Egyptian Art; the emergence of a National Style, American University of Cairo Press, 1988, Cairo
• Samir Al Khalil (pseudonym of Kanan Makiya), The Monument; art, vulgarity and responsibillity in Iraq, Andre Deutsch, London, 1991
• Robert Kluijver, Borders; contemporary Middle Eastern art and discourse, Gemak, The Hague, October 2007/ January 2009
• Mohamed Metalsi, Croisement de Signe, Institut du Monde Arabe, Parijs, 1989 (on ao Shakir Hassan al-Said)
• Revue Noire; African Contemporary Art/Art Contemporain Africain: Morocco/Maroc, nr. 33-34, 2ème semestre, 1999, Paris.
• Ahmed Fouad Selim, 7th International Biennial of Cairo, Cairo, 1998.
• Ahmed Fouad Selim, 8th International Biennial of Cairo, Cairo, 2001.
• M. Sijelmassi, l’Art Contemporain au Maroc, ACR Edition, Paris, 1889.
• Walid Sadek, Tony Chakar, Bilal Khbeiz, Tamass 1; Beirut/Lebanon, Witte De With Center For Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, 2002
• Paul Sloman (ed.), with contributions of Wijdan Ali, Nat Muller, Lindsey Moore ao, Contemporary Art in the Middle East, Black Dog Publishing, London, 2009
• Stephen Stapleton (ed.), with contributions of Venetia Porter, Ashraf Fayadh, Aarnout Helb, ao, Ahmed Mater, Booth-Clibborn Productions, Abha/London 2010 (see also www.ahmedmater.com)
• Rayya El Zein & Alex Ortiz, Signs of the Times: the Popular Literature of Tahrir; Protest Signs, Graffiti, and Street Art, New York, 2011 (see http://arteeast.org/pages/literature/641/)

Links to relevant websites of institutions, manifestations, magazines, museums and galleries for Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa:

An Impression of the lecture, 17-5-2011, Diversity & Art, Amsterdam

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On the screen a work of the Iraqi artist Rafa al-Nasiri

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Three times Qassim Alsaedy’s Shortly after the War

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In front: The Iraqi/Kurdish journalist Goran Baba Ali and Herman Divendal, director of the Human Rights Organisation for Artists AIDA (Association Internationale des Défence des Artistes)

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Me (left) with the Embassador of Iraq in the Netherlands, H.E. Dr. Saad Al-Ali, and Qassim Alsaedy

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Floris Schreve
فلوريس سحرافا
(أمستردام، هولندا)

photos during the lecture by Hesam Hama

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Tentoonstelling Diversity & Art- Qassim Alsaedy (Bagdad 1949) قاسم الساعدي

 

قاسم الساعدي 

Qassim Alsaedy – ‘Shortly after the War’

Qassim Alsaedy werd in 1949 geboren in Bagdad. Zijn familie kwam oorspronkelijk uit de zuidelijke stad al-Amara, maar was, zoals zo velen in die tijd, naar de hoofdstad vetrokken. Het gezin had zich gevestigd in een huis vlak naast de Jumhuriyya Brug over de Tigris, niet ver van het Plein van de Onafhankelijkheid. Voor Alsaedy’s keuze voor het kunstenaarschap was dit gegeven zeker van belang. Na de revolutie van 1958, toen de door de Britten gesteunde monarchie van de troon werd gestoten, werd er op dit plein een begin gemaakt aan de bouw het beroemde vrijheidsmonument (Nasb al-Huriyya) van Iraks bekendste beeldhouwer Jewad Selim, die tegenwoordig veelal wordt gezien als de belangrijkste grondlegger van de modernistische kunst van Irak. Dit werk, dat in 1962 na de dood van Selim voltooid werd, maakte een grote indruk op Alsaedy. Het vrijheidsmonument van Jewad Selim deed Alsaedy voor het eerst beseffen dat kunst niet alleen mooi hoeft te zijn, maar ook werkelijk iets te betekenen kan hebben.

Ook een expositie van de beroemde Iraakse kunstenaar Shakir Hassan al-Said in het Kolbankian Museum in Bagdad in 1962, maakte grote indruk. Alsaedy besloot om zelf kunstenaar te worden. In 1969 deed hij zijn toelatingsexamen aan de kunstacademie van Bagdad, bij Shakir Hassan al-Said, die uiteindelijk een van zijn belangrijkste docenten zou worden in de tweede fase van zijn opleiding.

In de tijd dat Alsaedy zich inschreef aan de kunstacademie had Irak een roerige periode achter de rug en waren de vooruitzichten bijzonder grimmig. In 1963 had een kleine maar fanatieke nationalistische en autoritaire groepering, de Ba’thpartij, kortstondig de macht gegrepen. In de paar maanden dat deze partij aan de macht was, richtte zij een ware slachting aan onder alle mogelijke opponenten. Omdat de Ba’thi’s zo te keer gingen had het leger nog in datzelfde jaar ingegrepen en de Ba’thpartij weer uit de macht gezet. Tot 1968 werd Irak bestuurd door het autoritaire en militaire bewind van de gebroeders Arif, dat wel voor enige stabiliteit zorgde en geleidelijk steeds meer vrijheden toestond. In 1968 wist de Ba’thpartij echter weer de macht te grijpen, deze keer met meer succes. Het bewind zou aan de macht blijven tot 2003, toen een Amerikaanse invasiemacht  Saddam Husayn (president vanaf 1979) van de troon stootte. Toch opereerde de Ba’thpartij aan het begin van de jaren zeventig voorzichtiger dan in 1963 en dan zij later in de jaren zeventig zou doen. In eerste instantie werd het kunstonderwijs met rust gelaten, hoewel daar, precies in de periode dat Alsaedy studeerde, daar geleidelijk aan verandering in kwam.

        

Links: Qassim Alsaedy met Faiq Hassan (links), begin jaren zeventig
Rechts: Qassim Alsaedy met de kunstenaar Kadhim Haydar, ook een van zijn docenten, begin jaren zeventig (foto’s collectie Qassim Alsaedy)

Zover was het nog niet in 1969. Vanaf de jaren veertig was er in Irak een bloeiende avant-garde beweging ontstaan, vooral geïnitieerd door Jewad Selim en de Bagdadgroep voor Eigentijdse Kunst. Naast de groep rond Jewad Selim was er ook Faiq Hassan (Alsaedy’s belangrijkste docent in zijn eerste jaar) en Mahmud Sabri, wiens radicale avant-gardistische opvattingen zo slecht in de smaak vielen bij de Ba’thpartij, dat hij bijna uit de geschiedschrijving van de Iraakse moderne kunst is verdwenen. Toch waren juist de ideeën van Sabri, die al in de vroege jaren zeventig in ballingschap ging en zich uiteindelijk in Praag vestigde,  van groot belang voor Alsaedy’s visie op zijn kunstenaarschap. Van Sabri, die een geheel nieuw artistiek concept had ontwikkeld, het zogenaamde Quantum Realisme,leerde Alsaedy dat de kunstenaar de kunstenaar vooral een verschil kan maken door geheel vrij en onafhankelijk te zijn van welke stroming, ideologie of gedachtegoed dan ook, iets  wat hij in zijn verdere loopbaan altijd zou proberen na te streven.

Een andere belangrijke docent van Alsaedy was Shakir Hassan al-Said, een van de beroemdste kunstenaars van Irak en zelfs van de Arabische wereld. Al-Said bracht Alsaedy ook in contact met Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, de beroemde schrijver en kunstcriticus van Palestijnse afkomst, in die dagen een van de belangrijkste figuren binnen de Iraakse kunstscene. Maar verder was de invloed van Shakir Hassan van groot belang op Alsaedy’s artistieke vorming.  Na een expressionistische periode had Shakir Hassan al Said een zeer persoonlijke abstracte beeldtaal ontwikkeld, waarbij het Arabische alfabet als basis diende. Ook had al-Said een uitgebreide theorie ontwikkeld, die hij voor zijn werk als uitgangspunt nam. Hijzelf en een aantal geestverwanten vormden de zogenaamde One Dimension Group. Hoewel er misschien iets van een oppervlakkige verwantschap is tussen het werk van Shakir Hassan al-Said en dat van Alsaedy – ook al-Said liet zich vaak inspireren door opschriften op muren en ook veel van zijn werken hebben titels als Writings on a Wall zijn er ook wezenlijke verschillen. Al-Said en zijn geestverwanten putten vooral inspiratie uit de abstracte islamitische traditie, waarbij zij vooral het Arabisch schrift als uitgangspunt namen. De bronnen van Alsaedy hebben veelal een andere oorsprong, die niet in de laatste plaats samenhangen met een van de meest indringende ervaringen van leven.

Qassim Alsaedy, Rhythms in White, assemblage van dobbelstenen, 1999

Halverwege Alsaedy’s tijd aan de academie werd de controle van de Ba’thpartij, die nog maar net aan de macht was, steeds sterker. Het regime begon zich ook met het kunstonderwijs te bemoeien. Op een geven moment werd Alsaedy, samen met een paar anderen, uitgenodigd door een paar functionarissen van het regime. In 2000 beschreef Alsaedy deze bijeenkomst als volgt: ‘We were invited for a meeting to drink some tea and to talk. They told us they liked to exhibit our works, in a good museum, with a good catalogue and they promised all these works would be sold, for the prize we asked.  It seemed that the heaven was open for us. But then they came with their conditions. We had to work according the official ideology  and they should give us specific titles. We refused their offer, because we were artists who were faithful towards our own responsibility: making good and honest art. When we agreed we would sold ourselves. (..) Later they found some very cheap artists who were willing to sell themselves to the regime and they joined them. All their paintings had been sold and the prizes were high. One of them, I knew him very well, he bought a new villa and a new car. And in this way they took all the works of these bad artists, and showed them and said: “Well, this is from the party and these are  the artists of Iraq”. The others were put in the margins of the cultural life’ (uit mijn Interview met Qassim Alsaedy, 8-8-2000).

Qassim Alsaedy, Saltwall, olieverf op doek, 2005

Alsaedy benadrukt dat bijna zijn hele generatie ‘nee’ heeft gezegd tegen het regime, waarvoor velen een hoge prijs hebben moeten betalen. Alsaedy spreekt dan ook van ‘the lost generation’, waarmee hij specifiek de lichting kunstenaars van de jaren zeventig bedoelt. De kunstenaars van voor die tijd hadden al een carrière voordat het regime zich met de kunsten ging bemoeien en de latere generatie had te maken met kunstinstituties die al geheel waren geïncorporeerd in het staatsapparaat. De problemen waarmee die kunstenaars te maken kregen waren natuurlijk minstens net zo groot, maar van een andere aard, dan de lichting kunstenaars die gevormd werd gedurende de periode van transitie. De generatie van de jaren zeventig zag en ervoer hoe de kunstscene langzaam werd ‘geba’thificeerd’.

Ook was Alsaedy lid van een verboden studentenbond. Dit alles leidde uiteindelijk tot zijn arrestatie. Op een gegeven moment werd Alsaedy midden op de dag opgepakt en afgevoerd naar de meest beruchte gevangenis van Irak van dat moment, al-Qasr al-Nihayyah, ‘het Paleis van het Einde’. Dit was het voormalige Koninklijke Paleis dat in de jaren zeventig door het regime als gevangenis was ingericht, totdat in de jaren tachtig de inmiddels algemeen bekende en beruchte Abu Ghraib open ging.

Voor negen maanden ging Alsaedy door de meest intensieve periode van zijn leven. Martelingen en de permanente dreiging van executie waren aan de orde van de dag. Gedurende de negen maanden dat hij zich hier bevond werd Alsaedy teruggeworpen tot zijn meest elementaire bestaan. Zijn omgeving was gereduceerd tot de gevangenismuren. Daar kwam Alsaedy tot een belangrijk inzicht. Hij ontdekte dat de velen die voor hem zich in deze ruimte hadden bevonden kleine sporen van hun bestaan hadden achtergelaten. Op de muren waren ingekraste tekeningen of opschriften zichtbaar, meestal nog maar vaag zichtbaar.  Alsaedy kwam tot het besef dat deze tekeningen van de gevangenen de laatste strohalm betekenden om mens te blijven. Zelfs in de donkerste omstandigheden trachtten mensen op de been te blijven door zich te uiten in primitief gemaakte tekeningen of om hun getuigenissen op de muren te krassen. Dit inzicht zou allesbepalend zijn voor Alsaedy’s verdere kunstenaarschap. Het thema ‘krassen of tekens op muren’, de rode draad in zijn hele oeuvre, vond hier zijn oorsprong.

Na deze negen maanden werd Alsaedy, middels een onverwachte amnestieafkondiging, samen met een groep andere gevangenen weer vrijgelaten. Een succesvol bestaan als kunstenaar via de gevestigde kanalen in Irak zat er voor hem niet meer in. Alsaedy werd definitief als verdacht bestempeld en was bij het regime uit de gratie geraakt. Hij besloot zijn heil elders te zoeken en week in 1979 uit naar Libanon. Daar participeerde hij samen met andere uitgeweken Iraakse kunstenaars aan een tentoonstelling die  mede een aanklacht was tegen het regime van de Ba’thpartij in Irak.

De onrustige situatie in het Midden Oosten maakte dat Qassim Alsaedy als Iraakse balling altijd op de vlucht moest, om te proberen elders een (tijdelijk) veilig heenkomen te zoeken. Door de burgeroorlog was Libanon een allerminst veilige plek en bovendien voltrokken zich ook nieuwe ontwikkelingen in Irak. Saddam Husayn was inmiddels president geworden en had alle oppositie, zelfs binnen zijn eigen partij, geëlimineerd. Vervolgens had hij zijn land in een bloedige oorlog met Iran gestort. Hoewel de Ba’thpartij met straffe hand het land controleerde, was er in het Koerdische noorden een soort schemergebied ontstaan, waar veel Iraakse oppositiekrachten naar waren uitgeweken. Door de chaotische frontlinies van de oorlog en doordat de Koerden, beter dan welke andere groepering in Irak, zich hadden georganiseerd in verzetsgroepen, was dit een gebied een soort vrijhaven geworden. Alsaedy kwam in 1982 terecht in de buurt van Dohuk, in westelijk Koerdistan en sloot zich, samen met andere Iraakse ‘politiek ontheemden’, aan bij de Peshmerga, de Koerdische verzetsstrijders. Naast dat hij zich bij het verzet had aangesloten was hij ook actief als kunstenaar. Naar aanleiding van deze ervaringen maakte hij later een serie werken, die bedekt zijn met een zwarte laag, maar waarvan de onderliggende gekleurde lagen sporadisch zichtbaar zijn door de diepe krassen die hij in zijn schilderijen had aangebracht.

Qassim Alsaedy, Black Field, olieverf op doek, 1999

Alsaedy over deze werken (zie bovenstaande afbeelding): ‘In Kurdistan I joined the movement which was against the regime. I worked there also as an artist. I exhibited there and made an exhibition in a tent for all these people in the villages, but anyhow, the most striking was the Iraqi regime used a very special policy against Kurdistan, against this area and also against other places in Iraq. They burned and sacrificed the fields by enormous bombings. So you see, and I saw it by myself, huge fields became totally black. The houses, trees, grass, everything was black. But look, when you see the burned grass, late in the season, you could see some little green points, because the life and the beauty is stronger than the evil. The life was coming through. So you saw black, but there was some green coming up. For example I show you this painting which is extremely black, but it is to deep in my heart. Maybe you can see it hardly but when you look very sensitive you see some little traces of life. You see the life is still there. It shines through the blackness. The life is coming back’ (geciteerd uit mijn interview met Alsaedy uit 2000).

Een impressie uit Alsaedy’s atelier, februari 2011

Gedurende bijna de hele oorlog met Iran verbleef Alsaedy in Koerdistan. Aan het eind van de oorlog, in 1988, lanceerde het Iraakse regime de operatie al-Anfal, de grootschalige zuivering van het Koerdische platteland en de bombardementen met chemische wapens op diverse Koerdische steden en dorpen, waarvan die op Halabja het meest berucht is geworden. Voor Alsaedy was het in Irak definitief te gevaarlijk geworden en moest hij zijn heil elders zoeken.

Het werd uiteindelijk Libië. Alsaedy: ‘I moved to Libya because I had no any choice to go to some other place in the world. I couldn’t go for any other place, because I couldn’t have a visa. It was the only country in the world I could go. Maybe it was a sort of destiny. I lived there for seven years. After two years the Kuwait war broke out in Iraq followed by the embargo and all the punishments. In this time it was impossible for a citizen of Iraq to have a visa for any country in the world’ (uit interview met Qassim Alsaedy, 2000).

Hoe vreemd het in de context van nu ook mag klinken, gedurende die tijd leefde Muammar al-Qadhafi in onmin met zo’n beetje alle Arabische leiders, inclusief Saddam Husayn. Het was precies op dat moment in de grillige loopbaan van de Libische dictator, dat hij zijn deuren opende voor alle mogelijke dissidenten van diverse pluimage uit de hele Arabische wereld. Ook Alsaedy kon daar zijn heenkomen zoeken en hij kreeg bovendien een betrekking als docent aan de kunstacademie van Tripoli.

   

   

Qassim Alsaedy werkt met zijn studenten in Tripoli aan een speciaal muurschilderingenproject, in 1989 en in 1994 (foto’s collectie Qassim Alsaedy)- klik op afbeelding voor vergrote weergave

In Libië voerde hij ook een groot muurschilderingenproject uit. Tegen zijn eigen verwachting in kreeg hij toestemming voor zijn plannen. Alsaedy: ‘I worked as a teacher on the academy of Tripoli, but the most interesting thing I did there was making many huge wallpaintings. The impossible happened when the city counsel of Tripoli supported me to execute this project. I had always the dream how to make the city as beautiful as possible. I was thinking about Bagdad when I made it. My old dream was to do something like that in Bagdad, but it was always impossible to do that, because of the regime. I believe all the people in the world have the right on freedom, on water, on sun, on air, but also the right on beauty. They have the right on beauty in the world, or in their lives. So one of my aims was to make wallpaintings and I worked hard on it. They were abstract paintings, but I tried to give them something of the atmosphere of the city. It is an Arabic, Islamic city with Italian elements. I tried to make something new when I studied the Islamic architecture. I worked on them with my students and so something very unusual happened, especially for the girls, because in our society it is not very usual to see the girls painting on the street. It was a kind of a shock, but in a nice way. It brought something positive’ (interview met Qassim Alsaedy, 2000).

Toch was ook Libië een politiestaat en zat het gevaar in een klein hoekje. De functionaris van het Libische regime, onder wiens verantwoordelijkheid Alsaedy’s project viel, vond een oranjekleurige zon in een van Alsaedy’s muurschilderingen verdacht. Volgens hem was deze zon eigenlijk rood en zou het gaan om verkapte communistische propaganda (zie bovenstaande afbeeldingen, rechtsonder). Alsaedy werd te kennen gegeven dat hij de zon groen moest schilderen, de kleur van de ‘officiële ideologie’ van het Qadhafi-bewind (zie het beruchte en inmiddels ook hier bekende ‘Groene Boekje’). Alsaedy weigerde dit en werd meteen ontslagen.

Zijn ontslag betekende ook dat Alsaedy’s verblijf in Libië een riskante aangelegenheid was geworden. Hij exposeerde nog wel in het Franse Culturele Instituut, maar had alle reden om zich niet meer veilig te voelen. Hij besloot dat het beter was om met zijn gezin zo snel mogelijk naar Europa te verdwijnen. Uiteindelijk kwam hij in 1994 aan in Nederland.

Vanaf eind jaren negentig, toen Alsaedy na een turbulent leven met vele omzwervingen ook de rust had gevonden om aan zijn oeuvre te bouwen, begon hij langzaam maar zeker zichtbaar te worden in de Nederlandse kunstcircuits. Zijn eerste tentoonstellingen waren vaak samen met zijn ook uit Irak afkomstige vriend Ziad Haider (zie deze eerdere expositie). Met een viertal andere uit Irak afkomstige kunstenaars (waaronder ook Hoshyar Rasheed, zie deze eerdere expositie) exposeerde hij in 1999 in Museum Rijswijk, zijn eerste museale tentoonstelling in Nederland.

In die periode werd de centrale thematiek van Alsaedy’s werk steeds meer zichtbaar. Voor Qassim Alsaedy staan de sporen die de mens in de loop der geschiedenis achterlaat centraal, van de vroegste oudheid (bijvoorbeeld Mesopotamië) tot het recente verleden (zie zijn ervaring in de gevangenis, of de zwarte laag in zijn ‘Koerdische landschappen’).

In 2000 formuleerde hij zijn centrale concept als volgt: ‘When I lived in Baghdad I travelled very often to Babylon or other places, which were not to far from  Baghdad. It is interesting to see how people reuse the elements of the ancient civilizations. For example, my mother had an amulet of cylinder formed limestones. She wore this amulet her whole lifetime, especially using it when she had, for example a headache. Later I asked her: “Let me see, what kind of stones are these?” Then I discovered something amazing. These cylinder stones, rolling them on the clay, left some traces like the ancient writings on the clay tablets. There was some text and there were some drawings. It suddenly looked very familiar. I asked her: “what is this, how did you get these stones?” She told me that she got it from her mother, who got it from her mother, etc. So you see, there is a strong connection with the human past, not only in the museum, but even in your own house. When you visit Babylon you find the same traces of these stones. So history didn’t end.

In my home country it is sometimes very windy. When the wind blows the air is filled with dust. Sometimes it can be very dusty you can see nothing. Factually this is the dust of Babylon, Ninive, Assur, the first civilizations. This is the dust you breath, you have it on your body, your clothes, it is in your memory, blood, it is everywhere, because the Iraqi civilizations had been made of clay. We are a country of rivers, not of stones. The dust you breath it belongs to something. It belongs to houses, to people or to some clay tablets. I feel it in this way; the ancient civilizations didn’t end. The clay is an important condition of making life. It is used by people and then it becomes dust, which falls in the water, to change again in thick clay. There is a permanent circle of water, clay, dust, etc. It is how life is going on and on.

I have these elements in me. I use them not because I am homesick, or to cry for my beloved country. No it is more than this. I feel the place and I feel the meaning of the place. I feel the voices and the spirits in those dust, clay, walls and air. In this atmosphere I can find a lot of elements which I can reuse or recycle. You can find these things in my work; some letters, some shadows, some voices or some traces of people. On every wall you can find traces. The wall is always a sign of human life’ (interview met Qassim Alsaedy, 2000).

Qassim Alsaedy, Rhythms, spijkers op hout, 1998

 

Qassim Alsaedy, uit de serie Faces of Baghdad, assemblage van metaal en lege patroonhulzen op paneel, 2005 (geëxposeerd op de Biënnale van Florence van 2005)

Een opvallend element in Alsaedy’s werk is het gebruik van spijkers. Ook op deze tentoonstelling zijn daar een aantal voorbeelden van te zien. Over een ander werk, een assemblage van spijkers in een verschillende staat van verroesting zei Alsaedy (voor een documentaire van de Ikon uit 2003) het volgende: ‘Dit heb ik gemaakt om iets over de pijn te vertellen. Wanneer de spijkers wegroesten zullen zij uiteindelijk verdwijnen. Er blijven dan alleen nog maar een paar gaatjes over. En een paar kruisjes’ (uit Beeldenstorm, ‘Factor’, Ikon, 17 juni 2003).

Een zelfde soort element zijn de patroonhulzen, die vaak terugkeren in Alsaedy’s werk, ook op deze tentoonstelling. Ook deze zullen uiteindelijk vergaan en slechts een litteken achterlaten.

In een eerder verband heb ik Alsaedy’s werk weleens vergeleken met dat van Armando (bijv.  in ISIM Newsletter 13, december 2003). Beiden raken dezelfde thematiek. Toch zijn er ook belangrijke verschillen. In zijn ‘Schuldige Landschappen’ geeft Armando uitdrukking aan het idee dat er op een plaats waar zich een dramatische gebeurtenis heeft afgespeeld (Armando verwijst vaak naar de concentratiekampen van de Nazi’s) er altijd iets zal blijven hangen, al zijn alle sporen uitgewist. Alsaedy gaat van hetzelfde uit, maar legt toch een ander accent. In zijn zwarte werken en met zijn gebruik van spijkers en patroonhulzen  benadrukt Alsaedy juist dat de tijd uiteindelijk alle wonden heelt, al zal er wel een spoor achterblijven.

Qassim Alsaedy (ism Brigitte Reuter), Who said no?, installatie Flehite Museum, Amersfoort, 2006

Sinds de laatste tien jaar duikt er in het werk van Alsaedy steeds vaker een crucifix op. Ook op deze tentoonstelling is daar een voorbeeld van te zien. Dat is opmerkelijk, omdat de kunstenaar geen Christelijke achtergrond heeft en ook niet Christelijk is. Alsaedy heeft het verhaal van Jezus echter ontdaan van zijn religieuze elementen.  Duidelijk bracht hij dit tot uitdrukking in zijn installatie in het Flehite Museum in Amersfoort, getiteld ‘Who said No?’ Los van de religieuze betekenis, is Jezus voor Alsaedy het ultieme voorbeeld van iemand die duidelijk ‘Nee’ heeft gezegd tegen de onderdrukking en daar weliswaar een hoge prijs voor heeft betaald, maar uiteindelijk gewonnen heeft. Op de manier zoals Alsaedy de crucifix heeft verwerkt is het een herkenbaar symbool geworden tegen dictatuur in welke vorm dan ook.

Detail ‘tegelvloer’ van Qassim Alsaedy en Brigitte Reuter

Gedurende de afgelopen tien jaar heeft Alsaedy veel samengewerkt met de ceramiste Brigitte Reuter. Ook op deze tentoonstelling zijn een aantal van hun gezamenlijke werken geëxposeerd. Gezien Alsaedy’s fascinatie voor het materiaal (zie zijn eerdere opmerkingen over de beschavingen uit de oudheid van Irak) was dit een logische keuze. De objecten zijn veelal door Reuter gecreëerd en door Alsaedy van reliëf voorzien, vaak een zelfde soort tekens die hij in zijn schilderijen heeft verwerkt. Door de klei te bakken, weer te bewerken of te glazuren en weer opnieuw te bakken, ontstaat er een zelfde soort gelaagdheid die ook in zijn andere werken is te zien. Een hoogtepunt van hun samenwerking was een installatie in het Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden in Leiden in 2008. In het Egyptische tempeltje van Taffeh, dat daar in de centrale hal staat, legden zij een vloer aan van gebakken en bewerkte stenen. Maar ook eerder, in het Flehite Museum, waren veel van hun gezamenlijke ‘vloeren’ en objecten te zien.

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Uit Book of Time, gemengde technieken op papier, 2001 (detail)

Een ander interessant onderdeel van Alsaedy’s oeuvre zijn zijn tekeningenboekjes. Op deze tentoonstelling is daar een van te bezichtigen,  Book of Time, uit 2001. Pagina na pagina heeft hij, als het ware laag over laag, verschillende tekens aangebracht met verschillende technieken (pentekening, inkt, aquarel en collage). Ook hier is zijn kenmerkende ‘tekenschrift’ zeer herkenbaar.

In 2003 werd het Ba’thregime van Saddam Husayn door een Amerikaanse invasiemacht ten val gebracht. Net als op alle in ballingschap levende Iraki’s, had dit ook op Qassim Alsaedy een grote impact. Hoewel zeker geen voorstander van de Amerikaanse invasie en bezetting (zoals de meeste van zijn landgenoten) betekende het wel dat, ondanks alle onzekerheden, er nieuwe mogelijkheden waren ontstaan. En bovenal dat het voor Alsaedy weer mogelijk was om zijn vaderland te bezoeken.  In de zomer van 2003 keerde hij voor het eerst terug. Naast

 

  

Qassim Alsaedy, object uit ‘Last Summer in Baghdad’, assemblage van kleurpotloden op paneel, 2003

Qassim Alsaedy, Shortly after the War, 2011 (detail)

dat hij natuurlijk zijn familie en oude vrienden had bezocht, sprak hij ook met een heleboel kunstenaars, dichters, schrijvers, musici, dansers en vele anderen over hoe het Iraakse culturele leven onder het regime van Saddam had geleden. Van de vele uren film die hij maakte, zond de VPRO een korte compilatie uit, in het kunstprogramma RAM, 19-10-2003 (hier te bekijken).

In de jaren daarna bleef dit bezoek een belangrijke bron van inspiratie. Alsaedy maakte verschillende installaties en objecten. Vaak zijn in deze werken twee kanten van de medaille vertegenwoordigd, zowel de oorlog en het geweld, maar ook de schoonheid, die eeuwig is en het tijdelijke overwint.

Vanaf halverwege de jaren 2000 is Qassim Alsaedy steeds zichtbaarder geworden in zowel Nederlandse als buitenlandse kunstinstellingen. Vanaf 2003 exposeerde hij regelmatig  in de gerenommeerde galerie van Frank Welkenhuysen in Utrecht, waar hij tegenwoordig als vaste kunstenaar aan verbonden is. Ook participeerde hij in de Biënnale van Florence in 2003 en exposeerde hij tweemaal in het Rijksmuseum van Oudheden. Een belangrijk hoogtepunt was zijn grote solotentoonstelling in het Flehite Museum in Amersfoort in 2006.

Met enige trots presenteren wij in Diversity & Art zijn project ‘Shortly after the War’.

Floris Schreve

Amsterdam, april 2011

 

 

 

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 Qassim Alsaedy bij de inrichting van de tentoonstelling

Diversity & Art | Sint Nicolaasstraat 21 | 1012 NJ Amsterdam| The Netherlands | open: Thursday 13.00 – 19.00 | Friday and Saturday 13.00 – 17.00 

VERLENGD TOT ZATERDAG 4 JUNI 

 

قاسم الساعدي 

 

April 22-Qassim Alsaedy “Shortly after the War” May 28

Alsaedy

Opening on Friday April 22 at 17:30 by Neil van der Linden,
specialist in art and culture of the Arab and Muslim world
(mainly in the field of music and theater)

doors open at 16.30

LectureonTUESDAY,May 17at 20:00byFloris Schreve
“Modern and Contemporary ArtofIraqand the Arab world”

 
Qassim Alsaedy (Baghdad 1949) studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad from 1969 to 1973. He was a student of the late Shakir Hassan al-Said, one of the most significant and influential artists of Iraq and even the Arab World. During his time at the academy Alsaedy was arrested and imprisoned for almost a year. Free again in1979, he organized with other Iraqi artists an exhibition in Lebanon, in which they stated against the Iraqi regime. Back in Iraq, he joined the Kurdish rebels in the North, where he also was active as an artists and even exhibited in tents. After the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in1988 he withdrew to Libya where he could work in relative freedom and where he became a teacher at the Art Academy of Tripoli until 1994, when he came to the Netherlands .
Alsaedy’s work is dominated by two themes, love versus pain and the ongoing cycle of growth and decay, a recycling of material when man leaves his characters and traces as a sign of existence through the course of history.Love is represented by beauty in bright and deep colors. The pain from the scars of war and destruction is visualized by the empty cartridge cases from the battlefield or represented by the rusty nails, an important element in many of his works. “The pain has resolved as the nails are completely rusted away”, states Alsaedy. In his three dimensional work, the duality of pain and beauty is always the main theme.

For this occasion Qassim Alsaedy will present his installation of several objects ‘Shortly after the War’. The ceramic objects are created in collaboration with the Dutch/German artist Brigitte Reuter (see http://www.utrechtseaarde.nl/reuter_b.html )

 Alsaedy

An impression of Alsaedy’s recent work in his studio (February 2011):

See also:

http://www.qassim-alsaedy.com/

http://www.kunstexpert.com/kunstenaar.aspx?id=4481

http://www.diversityandart.com/centre.htm

See also on this blog:

Interview with the Iraqi artist Qassim Alsaedy

In Dutch:

Iraakse kunstenaars in ballingschap

Drie kunstenaars uit de Arabische wereld

links naar artikelen en uitzendingen over kunstenaars uit de Arabische wereld

Denkend aan Bagdad- door Lien Heyting

van International Network of Iraqi Artists (iNCIA), Londen: http://www.incia.co.uk/31293.html.

SOLO EXHIBITION

Qassim Alsaedy

22 Apr – 28 May 2011

Diversity and Art
Netherlands

Born Baghdad 1949, AlSaedy studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad from 1969-73. He was a student of the late Shakir Hassan al-Said, one of the most significant and influential artists of Iraq and even the Arab World. During his time at the academy Alsaedy was arrested and imprisoned for almost a year. Free again in1979, he organized with other Iraqi artists an exhibition in Lebanon, as a statement against the Iraqi regime. Back in Iraq, he joined the Kurdish rebels in the North, where he also was active as an artist and even exhibited in tents. After the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988 he withdrew to Libya where he could work in relative freedom and where he became a teacher at the Art Academy of Tripoli until 1994, when he came to the Netherlands.  Alsaedy’s work is dominated by two themes, love versus pain and the ongoing cycle of growth and decay, a recycling of material when man leaves his characters and traces as a sign of existence through the course of history. Love is represented by beauty in bright and deep colors. The pain from the scars of war and destruction is visualized by the empty cartridge cases from the battlefield or represented by the rusty nails, an important element in many of his works. “The pain has resolved as the nails are completely rusted away”, states Alsaedy. In his three dimensional work, the duality of pain and beauty is always the main theme.  For this occasion Qassim Alsaedy will present his installation of several objects ‘Shortly after the War’. The ceramic objects are created in collaboration with the Dutch/German artist Brigitte Reuter.

Diversity & Art

van http://www.sutuur.com/ar/iraqi-outside/158-qassimalsaedy:

المعرض الجديد للفنان قاسم الساعدي

بعد الحرب بقليل

صياغة جديدة لمعادلة الامل والالم

الثاني والعشرون من نيسان الجاري , وعلى صالة كاليري

“DIVERSITY & ART ”

في امستردام , يفتتح المعرض الشخصي الجديد للفنان قاسم الساعدي , المعنون ب :

بعد الحرب بقليل

حيث سيعرض فيه مختارات من احدث اعماله, تضم لوحات , نحت , اعمال ثلاثية الابعاد, مخطوطة كتاب, وبعض قطع السيراميك التي انجزها الفنان بالتعاون مع الفنانة الالمانية بريجيت رويتر

وسيقدم الفنان اضافة الى ذلك عملا تركيبيا ” انستليشن ” يتكون من اكثر من خمسين قطعة مخلفة الاشكال والحجوم والتقنيات : لوحات صغيرة , منحوتات , سيراميك , كولاج …الخ , وقد استعار الفنان عنوان العمل التركيبي ليكون عنوان للمعرض باسره

ياءتي هذا المعرض , بعد معرضه الشخصي الذي افتتح منتتصف شهر تشرين الثاني نوفمبر , على فضاءات غاليري

” Frank Welkenhuysen ”

بمدينة اوترخت و وكان بعنوان : ” الطريق الى بغداد ” والذي حظي بنجاح واهتمام ملحوظ

يذكر ان على اجندة الفنان الساعدي العديد من المشاريع والمعارض التي ستستضيفها بعض الغاليريات والمتاحف في هولندا وبلجيكا والمملكة المتحدة .

هذا ويتطلع الفنان الى اقامة معرضه الشخصي في وطنه العراق , ويصفه بالحلم الممكن والمستحيل

لمزيد من المعلومات عن المعرض:

http://www.diversityandart.com/

Opening

 

Qassim Alsaedy met Brigitte Reuter (met wie hij samen het keramische werk maakte)

De Iraakse kunstenaars Wiedad Thamer, Salam Djaaz, Aras Kareem en Iman Ali

Qassim Alsaedy voor de camera van de Iraakse journalist Riyad Fartousi (zie filmpje helemaal onderaan dit bericht)

Qassims vrouw Nebal en dochter Urok

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vlnr ikzelf, de Iraaks Koerdische journalist Goran Baba Ali (hoofdredacteur Ex Ponto), de Iraakse schrijver en journalist Riyad Fartousi, Qassim Alsaedy, Nebal Shamky (Qassims vrouw) en Ali Reza (onze Iraanse bovenbuurman)

De Iraaks Koerdische kunstenaar Aras Kareem (zie deze eerdere expositie), bij het werk van Qassim Alsaedy

Neil van der Linden, die de opening verrichtte

vlnr Goran Baba Ali, Herman Divendal (van AIDA), ikzelf, Riyad Fartousi, Qassim Alsaedy, Liesbeth Schreve, Scarlett Hooft Graafland en nog een bezoeker

interview met Qassim Alsaedy en Goran Baba Ali op de opening voor een Arabische zender (http://www.sutuur.com/ar/video)

Interview met Qassim Alsaedy door Entisar Al-Ghareeb

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