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Iraqi Artists Look to Spruce Up Baghdad

Iraqi Artists Look to Spruce Up Baghdad

It was something you don't see everyday on the streets of Baghdad, a man squatting on the sidewalk, earnestly dipping a brush into yellow paint, then sweeping it onto a concrete wall.
But a group of Iraqi artists _ Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and others _ have come together to beautify a stretch of the bleak, gray blast barriers on central Baghdad's Saadoun Street erected to protect the area from car bombings and other attacks.
The murals range from the pastoral to the historical _ with scenes from the era of the ancient Babylonian King Hammurabi.
"About 80 Iraqi artists from different parts of Iraq and of different religious and ethnic backgrounds decided to participate in this initiative in a bid to bring happiness and joy to the Iraqis who see these walls everywhere and everyday and can't do anything about it," Talib Muhsin said as he painted a 2 1/2-by-10-yard scene of a palm grove with white birds.
The initiative comes as Iraqis are engaged in a fierce debate over a wall under construction elsewhere in Baghdad.
The U.S. military announced earlier this month that it was building a three-mile long, 12-foot tall security barrier in Azamiyah, a Sunni stronghold in northern Baghdad whose residents often fall victim to retaliatory mortar attacks by Shiite militants following bombings usually blamed on Sunni insurgents.
U.S. and Iraqi officials say the plan was aimed at protecting the neighborhood and was one of several security measures that were part of a strategy of enforcing so-called "gated communities."
Residents and Sunni leaders complained it was a form of discrimination that would isolate the community.
Muhsin, a 42-year-old artist who graduated from Iraq's College of Fine Arts in 1987, said that as long as authorities insisted on building the walls, they may as well look nice.
"This exhibit, which is the biggest one in Iraq, has two goals: the first one is that we are trying to help Iraqis to coexist with these concrete barriers and accept them in their life as de facto and can't be moved _ at least for the time being," he said.
"The second one that we Iraqi artists wanted to say that Iraqis are like other communities who love peace and want to get rid of this situation to live normal life."
Muhsin said the group had no immediate plans to paint other walls. He didn't rule out the possibility but said the Azamiyah wall wouldn't likely be one of them because of the sectarian ramifications.
"We want at least to beautify these walls as long as we can't move them, but we are afraid that some walls can't be beautified anymore as they make very hurtful impressions on the souls of Iraqis like the Azamiyah one," he said,
"That one is not like these, which are just for a building that needs to be protected from attacks," he said. "The Azamiyah one ... tries to divide Iraqis by their sects and religious backgrounds, something have rejected all these past years. And that, I feel ... even the most famous painters in this world can't beautify."
Iraqis have often painted the concrete barriers that have become a fact of life in the capital and elsewhere in the country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but rarely made a project of it. One of the most high-profile efforts was the painting of a wall around the nearby French Embassy shortly after the war started.
Residents had mixed reactions.
"We hope that our hearts are beautiful like these paintings on the walls," said Ali Abu Saleh.
But Jabbar Abdul-Rahman Tawfiq, a 33-year-old storeowner, said the splash of color was not going to improve the lives of Iraqis.
"I doubt that anything can beautify our life or alleviate our sufferings anymore as we lost the taste for life," he said. "These paintings will not prevent car bombs, roadside bombs and mortar shells from claiming the lives of innocent people. For me, they are just reminding me of a beautiful and normal life I lived once but can't retrieve it back anymore."


Updated : 2021-08-04 03:36 GMT+08:00