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Iraqi artists reflect on war in group show in New York

January 16, 2006|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Tattered book covers salvaged from the Iraqi Academy of Fine Arts and wax sketches of U.S. bombs blowing up Baghdad will be part of a rare U.S. show of works by Iraqi artists opening this week.

"Ashes to Art: The Iraqi Phoenix" reflects the turbulence in the nation since the March 2003 bombing of Baghdad. The flames referred to in the title were the reality of those closest to the attack, and nearly all the works include a charred element, said Peter Hastings Falk, who put together the show at SoHo's Pomegranate Gallery, where it will run Thursday to Feb. 22.

Artist Qasim Sabti returned to his alma mater, the Academy of Fine Arts, the morning after the bombing and found the school's library burned. He used the books, which he calls "survivors," to make collages -- exposing and reapplying layers of their bindings.

Hana Malallah, the lone woman among the 10 artists represented, painted "The Looting of the Museum of Art" on wood that she burned.

Falk had the idea for the show soon after the U.S. invasion when he read about artist Esam Pasha, 29, who was painting over a mural of Saddam Hussein. Pasha helped him find a group of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish artists for the New York gallery show.

Under Saddam's rule, artistic work was subject to official review. Regulations were relaxed in the 1990s, but the government began to tax galleries, driving some underground and others out of business.

Iraqi artists couldn't show their work internationally without government approval, said Nada Shabout, an assistant professor specializing in contemporary Iraqi art at the University of North Texas. "The government had a strong monopoly over art," Shabout said.

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