Exhibition Tour
Iraqi Artists Worldwide
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BLACK WORDS IN RED INK is Iraq war in a calligraphic installation by Mustafa Ja'far at the Menier Gallery, London.  'During the run up to the Iraq war in March 2003, my daily intake of news reports increased sharply. The American-led campaign to topple Saddam was about to start. Iraq was on the verge of a new phase about which I knew nothing.

I lost dear friends, as well as old colleagues and good neighbours. Many many of my relatives and family members had to flee their country to seek refuge in Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Those who remained in Baghdad and survived roadside bombs, indiscriminate killing and suicide bombers could not survive serious illnesses. Most of the doctors and medical staff had either fled the country or gone into hiding. They too became targets of the terrorists.

One day, at the beginning of September 2007, I wanted to try out a new broad-edged calligraphy pen. I had never written with anything like it before. I cleared my desk, bought big sheets of white glossy paper measuring 64 by 45 cm and a large inkwell filled with red ink. I was ready to write, but what to write? I needed a word. Instantly, one crept out of my head and found its way to my pen: 'refugees'.  The next day I thought of putting down the rest of those torturous words that had been buzzing round in my head. I envisaged a show where multiple loose practise sheets could become a single installation - spread on the floor of a gallery or stuck to a vast white wall simply with masking tape. Between September 2007 and March 2008, whenever time permitted, I wrote more than forty words in a single calligraphic style, jeli thuluth, using the same broad-edged pen, the red ink and the white glossy paper. Despite the long seven months that separate the writing of the first word from the last, they all look consistent, as if they were all written in one excruciating, long practise session.

Finally, I would like to make an important point. I did not embark upon this project with the intention of entering the political arena or making a political statement. I am not a banner writer. Never was and never will be. Furthermore, my sorrow, my pain and my intense sense of loss transcend any political point scoring. The bitter words that I have written are born out of the conflict itself. I did not invent them, but I found them more than enough to express our deep collective grief.

Preview 6 June 2007  7.30-9.30pm
Inauguration & Talk 8pm
Exhibition continues till 6 Sept 2007

Iraqi artists Hana Mal Allah and Rashad Selim bring together their creativity in a defining exhibition reflecting two contrasting experiences with inside/out perspectives.  Using different art practices, both artists engage with the destruction of their city Baghdad and the devastation of their homeland. The exhibition will be inaugurated by Nadje al-Ali.  Selim and Mal Allah are part of Arts Unwrapped the UK's biggest Open Studios event, where their studios will be open to the public 8-10 June 2007.   Leighton House Museum (museums@rbkc.gov.uk) will be hosting Talks for both artists on 23 June 2007.  Artwork by Rashad Selim Western Rivers  52x52cm  2007.  For detailed information and visual examples visit ayagallery.

Souvenir from the Ministry of Justice
Rashad Selim 2007

Directed by Christine Gara- bedian; introduced by Raji Omar Stolen Dreams is a 22-minute documen- tary following the artists Hana Mal Allah, Rashad Selim and Maysaloun Faraj in the lead up to the exhibition Sophisticated Ways in the Destruction of an Ancient City recently held at ayagallery. A two-part online feature of the film is now viewable on Witness.

Iraqi artists in Baghdad join forces to convert the 'American' built concrete barriers set up around the Adhamiya district, into huge art murals.  Further details will be uploaded shortly.  For information in Arabic please see Iraqi Fine Arts.

Support Iraqi Widows Now!   According to official and NGO sources, more than 90 Iraqi women become widows each day due to continuing violence across the country. In other words, far over 90 Iraqi men die daily from the violence caused by the occupation forces, sectarian tensions and insurgents. Although few reliable statistics are available on the total number of widows in Iraq, the Ministry of Women's Affairs says that there are at least 300,000 in Baghdad alone, with hundreds of thousands more throughout the country. (UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, April 2006). 

Saddam Hussein was responsible for the killings of thousands of men during his repressive dictatorship: political repression and a series of wars caused a demographic imbalance with the female population making up about 55-65% of the overall population of about 24 million Iraqis.

The situation has become much more critical since the US-led invasion in 2003, as the daily violence and killings of innocent civilians goes side by side with an ineffective government that fails to provide the necessary financial and social support for the growing numbers of widows. Left with virtually no government support, no salaries due to the economic crisis and high unemployment rates, collapsed family networks due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis and lack of security, many widows are left no choice but to beg on the streets or even to engage in prostitution.

- The end of the occupation to stop the violence by US and UK forces
- The end of the killing of innocent civilians by insurgents and militias
- Financial assistance and wide-scale income generating projects for widows
- Legal rights and representation especially in terms of the atrocities committed by the occupation forces

The calligrapher Taha al-Hiti taking part in the event's Workshop organised by the artist Rashad Selim

The artist Faisal Laiby taking part in the event's Workshop organised by the artist Rashad Selim

The artist Rashad Selim at centre with Faisal Laibi at far right

The artworks were made in support of the Silent Vigil held on the steps of St Martins in the Feild, Trafalgur Square to bring attention to the ever increasing plight of widows in occupied Iraq.  ORGANISED BY Act Together- Women's Action on Iraq
Supported by
Iraqi Women's League; Organisation for Women's Freedom in Iraq; Widows for Peace and Democracy; Middle East Centre for Women's Rights; Widows for Peace and Democracy; Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; Stop the War Coalition; IXDU Iraqi/International stop DU; Code Pink, Voices in the Wilderness; Justice not Vengeance; Tony Benn; Sami Ramadani.

Rashad Selim, Maya al-Askari, iNCiA and the founding members of I&IXDU (Artists Against Depleted Uranium) organised a Private View of Contemporary Art at the residence of Maya al-Askari in expression of artists working together against Depleted Uranium.  The exhibition featured artworks in a range of media including; paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, ceramics, installations, video works and photography.

Artwork by Ala Siraih

In the words of Rashad Selim: 'In the open scientific and legal public domain we already know absolutely enough about Depleted Uranium (DU) to stop it and never to have used it in the first place. We do not know however, enough to heal the damage inflicted by the use of DU to date. Much research needs to be done and data gathered for the sake of healing but nothing more need be learned to conclude that the use of DU is a crime against humanity, nature and the Gods or one God of creation in absolute terms. Artworks by Leila Kubba and Rima Farah

It ought not to be the duty of the public towards corporations and governments to prove DU harmful. It was the user’s duty, to prove DU in honour of their words and in duty to their own people. DU harms indiscriminately and what we are seeing is the betrayal by a tiny minority within the leadership of a great majority of any values held up as dear. They must stop and desist from the use of DU in war and practice NOW for there is no proof whatsoever that DU is worthy at any price for any cause other then Genocide and Eugenics.  

Stopping DU unites us all across any differences, border or divide leaving the producers and users of DU powerful though they are, very alone. We will in every way possible gather the links (Arabic/Semitic Halaqat) together actively in bringing DU use to a stop ASAP.  Each individual member of the gathering offered their thought, talents, experience, expertise and resolution to work in seeing this achieved.  Artworks by Hana Mal Allah  

Contributing Artists: Maysaloun Faraj . Leila Kubba . Jannane el-Ani . Carol Fulton . Hanna Mal Allah . Margareta Kern . Rima Farah . Anahit Sarkes . Richard Hudson . Adam Bricusse . Hani Mazhir . Kareem Risan . Malik Shuker . Mohamed Daami . Setar Kawosh . Riad Bazzaz . Assim El Rubaii . Saadi Daoud . Alaa Siraih . Rashad Salim . Peter Kennard RCA . Catpicton Phillipps RCA and Henry Hemming, who with Al Braithwaite, Stephen Stapleton and Georgie Weedon have recently published the book "OFF SCREEN" an artistic record of a year-long journey across the Middle East 2002-3.

Memory is as sacred as an icon in a shrine
To it, we rush
we smile
we shed a tear
Our memories
icons that we hold
icons that enshrine us
Paintings are the icons of memory
A lonely memory
longing for a city...where everything was once made of gold" . Sadik Alfraji 2004

Dedicated to the late leading Iraqi artist Shaker Hassan Al Said, the exhibition was inaugurated by the Deputy Mayor of Hammersmith & Fulham Councillor Mercy Umeh. 

About Sadik Alfraji: Born in Baghdad, Iraq, 1960.  BA Painting, Academy of Fine Arts, Baghdad, Iraq; Philosophy Masters, Jordan University, Amman, Jordan; Graphic Design, CHK Academy of Fine Art, Kampen, The Netherlands.  Has held many solo exhibitions in different countries as well as participations in numerous group exhibitions, biennial, and art festivals world-wide.  Works and lives in Amersfoort, The Netherlands.  A complete feature of the exhibition can be viewed at ayagallery.

Rasim hur fil Sama . Free Drawing in the Sky 
The project was initiated and organised by the artist Rashad Selim in association with the Society of Iraqi Plastic Art, Baghdad, Artists Against Oppression and iNCiA, London, during his fact-finding trip to Baghdad in November 2003.  The project involved scores of Iraqi children and Iraqi Artists as well as clowns and a professional Kite-maker; in an attempt to "Reoccupy the sky with our dreams, regain the future with our imagination."   Images of the event were thereafter featured during ayagallery's Exhibition Preview: Expressions of Hope: Iraqi Art (3 December 2003 - 3 February 2004), where Rashad Selim gave a brief talk about his findings (See Baghdad Report below).

Iraqi children and artists determined to having a brilliant day, despite the chaos and turmoil in present day Iraq!

Dar al-Dawlet lil Sighar fil Wazeeriya

The professional kite-maker at work. 

Iraqi Clowns taking part to complete the children's exceptional fun filled Kite-flying day!

The artist Rashad Selim with Kites made by Iraqi children to...

Reoccupy the sky with our dreams and regain the future with our imagination.

The following is an extract from Rashad Selim's brief presentation at ayagallery's Exhibition Preview Expressions of Hope: Iraqi Art regarding his fact finding trip to Baghdad:

"...Baghdad looked like the dining table of giant, mythic beasts (with the predators still very much at large!)  Every person and grain of Iraq is touched by the trauma of the wars, sanctions, more war and now occupation.  Fighting vehicles scatologically drop barb wire where ever.  Concrete barriers are sown in the middle of streets and separating the palaces of the new them from the same old us.  Baghdad is without street lights.  The occupation sees better in the dark then it does by light.  This, though it could be, is not a metaphor but fact.  The use of night vision goggles and monitors gives them a much needed tactical edge in their war against the enemies of civilisation.  Light would blind the sensitivity of their equipment.  Thus they are sadly limited to seeing Baghdad in reptilian greens at night and dust by day, oh what colours are being missed!

Despite the depth and intensity of the abominations, I felt from those I met a weary, yet vital and infectious strength, a power even, that, in my “fresh from abroad” self took the form of a strange euphoria that I am still in the process of understanding! Happily, with other “outsiders” who have visited and felt the same intense mix of feelings.  A growing group of not so anonymous Iraq optimists! Well sort of, as the situation remains miserable, the path highly dangerous and the optimists have sometimes divergent grounds to base their hope on! 

Chaos and anarchy seems to predominate in what were the most open and “modern” public spaces like highways and Bab el Sherqi or Freedom Square.  Every major civic architectural complex or utility seemed bombed and or looted).  An urban lunacy created with what looked like great purpose.  I heard of and saw plenty of examples of traumatised behaviour in response to the stress of this present occupations regime, its “full spectrum” mess.  Full spectrum? Not yet (nor can it be) Even Saddam over thirty years could not dominate the Iraqi spirit fully.  For Iraq, a riverine culture and Baghdad literally an historic model of urban design (mostly well managed when left to itself) disorder runs contrary to our national character though rebellion is not unknown!

Very quickly I spotted delicate kites flitting above the debris.   It was November, the traditional season for flying kites.  A tradition that connects Iraq naturally to good old Charlie Brown, via the silk route/Asia and the rest of the world.  I made contact-lots of hugs and kisses and a few tears too -with Artist friends, teachers and young talents by way of the remnants of the Iraqi Artists Society and El Hewar Gallery.  They quickly joined in the project of creating and flying kites as “YES! Just the thing to do now!  There followed a week and a half of intense activity.  A workshop was set up in the Artists society building.  It had seen its share of looting and destruction but the Artists had already started clearing it up and were actively working towards its restoration.  I was there for the first official steering committee meeting and it was decided that this would be the first workshop to be organised and what a work shop it became! Artists amongst them Kereem Rissen, Hana Mal Allah, Dr Meki etc…and students from the Academy and institute of fine arts.  This became the first Coeducational workshop since the Baathists segregated the boys from the girls for all the wrong reasons! Also, students from the Music and Ballet School close by participated though due to three days of bomb scares less was achieved then the very real potentials there had promised.  Still those that participated had good fun and we certainly enjoyed the exuberance and grace that burst out...!"

Born Khartoum, Sudan, 1957.  Diploma Graphics and Printmaking, IFA, 1980; Postgraduate Diploma Audio Visuals, St Martins School of Art, London, 1983.  Took part in the Thor Heyerdahl expedition, 1977-78 (construction and crew member: Sumerian reed boat following ancient trade routes between Mesopotamia, Indus Valley and Red Sea).  Work has involved teaching and lecturing on art in various countries including Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen and England, since 1980; illustration; stage design; photography; film production; Art Advisory Consultant with the UN and non-governmental organisations.  Established and developed numerous cultural associations including: Friends of the Children's Hospital, Rabat, Morocco; International Halaqa, Yemen and Ashford Visual Artists; Ashford Visual Artists.  Artwork in private and public collections worldwide including the British Museum, London.  A junior member of the Selim dynasty of artists.  Based in England, and regularly commutes between North Africa and Europe. .