Miniature models help preserve Baghdad’s heritage
Baghdad - The old neighbourhood, with its minute details depicting traditional Iraqi architecture and people’s daily lives, looks real and vibrant. From the decorated building façades, the imposing carved doors with copper handles, oil lanterns hanging on walls at the entrances, the oud in the corner and the old carpets thrown on balconies’ railings, Ammar Azzawi’s miniature models represent the Iraqi capital’s fading architectural and cultural heritage.
Azzawi, a 30-year-old Iraqi artist, spent eight months working on two replicas of Baghdad’s old quarters to reproduce its heritage for future generations.
Some of the details depicted in Azzawi’s models have long withered away due to urban development and years of conflict and neglect. “I had to rely on old photos that documented and illustrated these areas, exploring every minor detail to make my models the closest to reality and as genuine a reproduction can be,” he said.
“I am trying not to miss on any details because I see it as a duty to transmit our beautiful heritage to all those who have been deprived from enjoying it,” Azzawi added.
Although he did not study fine arts at university, Azzawi, who developed his talent and passion privately with the support of his family, sees himself as an artist with a mission. “By creating such minutely detailed scale models, I am actually perpetuating Iraq’s (architectural) heritage,” he said.
“My deepest wish was to study fine arts and sculpture as part of my academic studies but because of favouritism my application was rejected at the faculty of fine arts, so I had to settle for economics and management to complete my higher studies.”
Azzawi has been collecting miniature models of cars and motorcycles since childhood, a passion that he developed by joining the Iraqi Club of Miniatures Amateurs.
“I cannot describe how thrilled I was while creating models from clay and cardboard,” he said. “I used to amaze my friends in the neighbourhood with my creations. Although I had some disappointing experiences, it did not stop me from trying again and again until I got the result I wanted.”
The minute replicas necessitated long hours of hard work in the small workshop that Azzawi set up in his family home in an old quarter of Baghdad. “Some of my dreams I have actually realised in this small space, including my first exhibition using the diorama technique,” he said.
A 3D replica or scale model is created. It is typically used to show historical events, nature scenes or cityscapes for purposes of education or entertainment. Dioramas are commonly used in museums.
Although the art of constructing miniature models is considered a contemporary exercise that is popular across Europe, Iraqi artists lag behind and have difficulties catching up, according to Iraqi sculptor Karim Khalil.
“There is a big gap between artists in Iraq and those in other countries, be they Arab or Western countries, because art has become very particular and it is difficult for us to stay up to date,” Khalil said.
Without being overly enthusiastic about miniature reproductions, Khalil said: “There is no harm in developing this art, on condition not to copy the West or reproduce a Western culture that is not linked to our Iraqi environment or one that would be resisted by the people who are living under difficult security and political circumstances that made them isolated and detached.”
Khalil bemoaned the drop in creativity among Iraqi artists, noting that “art in Iraq is influenced by imported ideas from the West”.
“There is no Iraqi creativity as it used to be in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s of the last century, though some artists have succeeded in transliterating and transmitting Iraq’s realities, which I call ‘Iraqisation’ of art, leaving their fingerprints in cultural and fine arts circles,” Khalil added.
Nonetheless, Azzawi is determined to develop his hobby of building miniature models illustrating the heritage of Baghdad.
“It is a great pleasure to be able to transform evidence into a small-scale reality. For this, I can use any available material that gives me the aspired result, including metal wires, wood and plastic, which are easy to manoeuvre. But not all materials are available in the Iraqi market, necessitating sometimes to find alternative constituents,” Azzawi said.