Beirut festival rebuilds bridges with contemporary Iraqi art

The 6-day festival featured a series of cultural events, including short and feature film screenings, art installations, poetry readings and music sessions.
Saturday 19/10/2019
“Dress Code,” a video installation by Mahmoud Obaidi. (Dar El-Nemr)
Between dream and reality. “Dress Code,” a video installation by Mahmoud Obaidi. (Dar El-Nemr)

BEIRUT - The art scene in Iraq and in the diaspora was highlighted with a dedicated festival showcasing a variety of artwork and multimedia productions by established and emerging artists after the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Organised by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in partnership with Dar El-Nimer for Arts and

Culture, “Iraqisms” was designed to rebuild cultural bridges between Iraq and the region that have been broken since 2003, said festival curator Rasha Salah.

“‘Iraqisms’ is about Beirut’s celebration of Baghdad on behalf of all the (Arab) cities,” Salah said. “We have missed Iraqi art. The country has been absent from the cultural radar for a long time but I know that art is being produced despite wars and conflicts. That’s why I decided to cover the period from 2003 until today.”

The 6-day festival featured a series of cultural events, including short and feature film screenings, art installations, poetry readings and music sessions.

“It is a cocktail of cultural productions that gives an overview of cultural life there. I regret not being able to show performance art like theatre and dance but I tried as much as possible to include diverse artistic mediums that were carefully selected in order to be neutral and not insinuate any political connotations,” Salah said.

The shows featured artists using contemporary art media such as installations, multimedia and video arts.

“Iraqi art is not only about paintings and sculptures, it is about contemporary arts as well. It shows that contemporary arts have reached Arab countries, including those plagued with wars and occupation,” Salah said.

Documentaries and short and long films covered the realities from the missing of war to the migrants, the plight of the Yazidi minority at the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the survival of those who chose to stay in Iraq.

“Survivors of Firdos Square,” a short film by director Adel Khaled, recounts the story of two artists — Bassem, a sculptor and Adel, a director — who struggle in Baghdad as a result of the US-led occupation. They depart for Damascus, where they went their separate ways. Bassem returns to Baghdad and dies in mysterious circumstances, while Adel arrives in Europe.

“Son of Babylon,” a feature-length film directed by Iraqi-Dutch Mohamed al-Daradji tells the story of Ahmed, a young boy accompanying his grandmother in her quest to find her missing son, Ahmed’s father. From the mountains of Kurdistan to the sands of Babylon, they hitch rides from strangers and cross paths with fellow pilgrims.

The plight of Yazidi women enslaved by ISIS jihadists is stressed in the short film “Sabyea” (“Slave”) by Dhyaa Joda through the story of the protagonist who prefers to die with honour than live as a slave.

“Wounded Soul,” an installation by Iraqi artist Dia Azzawi, featured a bruised horse spiked with arrows and surrounded by 450 white lilies.

“The work I am presenting is related to the assassination of 450 Iraqi scientists and academics after 2003,” Azzawi said. “The horse represents an essential element in traditional narratives. It embodies the destruction caused by strife and the loss of thousands of innocent Iraqis to absurd wars which dragged the country to occupation, casualties and battles.”

Iraqi artists in the diaspora, such as Adel Abidin, addressed the life of the migrants or so-called “new refugees” in his short film “Crazy Days.” It is about an Iraqi immigrant man living in Finland, who is neither physically nor mentally integrated in the Finnish society. He gets his own attitude reinforced by constantly being approached as an outsider by Finns.

The event included encounters with Iraqi poet and novelist Sinan Antoon and a listening session coupled with a historical overview of Iraqi music from the 20th century until today presented by Iraqi music critic Samer Almashall. Excerpts of musical genres from different Iraqi regions were played.

“Each artist shows through his own art how he or she relates to his country and to the realities in his country, even if they are part of the diaspora,” Salah said.

“Our (Arab) peoples have become mere numbers of dead, missing or displaced in news bulletins. ‘Iraqisms ‘ is very important because it reminds us that we are humans who can produce art. It is a space to celebrate Iraqi creativity, hosted by Beirut, the sister (city) of Baghdad.”