Iraq exhibits restored art pillaged after 2003 invasion

Published April 24, 2022
A wooden sculpture of a gazelle with undulating curves is on display at Iraq’s Ministry of Culture.—AFP
A wooden sculpture of a gazelle with undulating curves is on display at Iraq’s Ministry of Culture.—AFP

BAGHDAD: Verdant landscapes, stylised portraits of peasant women, curved sculptures — an exhibition in Baghdad is allowing art aficionados to rediscover the pioneers of contemporary Iraqi art.

Around one hundred items are on display in the capital, returned and restored nearly two decades after they were looted.

Many of the works, including pieces by renowned artists Jawad Selim and Fayiq Hassan, disappeared in 2003 when museums and other institutions were pillaged in the chaos that followed the US-led invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.

Thousands of pieces were stolen, and organised criminal networks often sold them outside Iraq.

Tracked down in Switzerland, the US, Qatar and neighbouring Jordan, sculptures and paintings dating between the 1940s and 1960s have been on display since late March at the Ministry of Culture, in a vast room that used to serve as a restaurant.

“These works are part of the history of contemporary art in Iraq,” ministry official Fakher Mohamed said. Pictures and sculptures were in 2003 spirited away from the Saddam Arts Centre, one of Baghdad’s most prestigious cultural venues at the time.

While he crushed all political dissent, Saddam cultivated the image of a patron of the arts. The invasion and years of violence that followed ended a flourishing arts scene, particularly in Baghdad.

Now, relative stability has led to a fledgling artistic renaissance, including book fairs and concerts, of which the exhibition organised by the ministry is an example.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2022

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