Iraqi Artists Claim Conservatives Suppress Their Work
|January 12, 2011||Filled under Uncategorized|
Baghdad // Belquis al Koreshi, a young and ambitious artist, had hoped to show at a public exhibition her paintings of the everyday lives of working-class Iraqi women as they wash clothes, cook food or make bread.
Despite the mundane activities featured in her works, they fell foul of Islamic conservatives in her home city of Amara, 170km south-east of Baghdad, and the 20-year-old artist was warned not to put them on show.
“My family and friends heard the message that the Islamic parties were talking about me and saying I was breaking Islam’s rules of privacy,” she said.
After discussing the issue with her parents, who promised to support her regardless of her decision, Ms al Koreshi opted against trying to fight for a public showing. She feared it would provoke a backlash in an area renowned for its hardline interpretation of Shiite Islam.
“I’m afraid,” she said. “The Islamic parties put pressure on me not to show my work. I feel sad about that. I want to find somewhere to show the paintings but for that I need permission from the political parties and they are all radical in their religion.”
Other artists in Iraq say hers is not an isolated case, and argue that Islamic groups and political parties are operating behind the scenes to hinder their work and undermine their freedom of expression.
“I was close to putting on an exhibition of my paintings, then suddenly there would be one obstacle after another put in the way and the support for my show was mysteriously withdrawn,” said Karim al Wasiti, a Baghdad-based landscape artist, who has previously exhibited in the capital.
“It’s not as if I’m painting nudes,” he said. “In Iraq, we’re seeing more of these clerics and religious people with their hard ideas, and they are against things like television and photography and painting, they say it’s the devil’s work.
“It wouldn’t matter but they’re in powerful positions these days. I wish they would just leave us alone.”
Munem Rahman, a sculptor who lives in Baghdad, recounted a similar experience a little more than a year ago, when a planned exhibition of his pieces, inspired by Iraq’s pre-Islamic history, was dropped.
“I made faces of the old kings and rulers,” he said. “The religious parties heard about it and decided I was making false idols that people had once worshipped, and that I would be encouraging them to worship the idols again.
“I didn’t think they were actually serious, but then they stopped the show. I was astonished.”
All of the artists who spoke to The National declined to name any specific Islamic political party involved and said there was a general atmosphere that allowed religious conservatives to make de-facto rules and bring pressure to bear.
Mohammad al Shammari, an official in the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), one of the major Shiite parties, said no art was off-limits but certain types were inappropriate.
“Educated Muslims know the principles of Islam do not allow for attacking artists for any job they are doing, and we [ISCI] have a very good relationship with the arts. We support artists and exhibitions,” he said. “We just criticise western artists when they draw nudes, which doesn’t match Iraqi morals or our need for respectful paintings.”
Members of the artistic community have nonetheless called for intervention by the authorities to shield them from any religious pressure.
“I want to see more action by the government to protect artists’ rights,” said Mr Rahman, the sculptor, who is working on a stone display that depicts Iraq’s past 40 years, and is due to be shown in central Baghdad when completed. “Really at the moment there is no help or attention paid to these issues.”
Safia al Suhir, an MP with the National Alliance, confirmed claims that government backing for artists is limited under the political bloc headed by the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki. She said the authorities were busy dealing with a multitude of other problems, including providing security and trying to kick-start an ailing economy…(Full Story)
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