10 Years Later: Q & A with Iraqi Artist Satta Hashem

Some days, a literature blog must diverge from the written word to other forms of translated expression.  

Satta Hashem, 2007.
Satta Hashem, 2007. From artofthemideast.com/

At the Mosaic Rooms on March 22, a number of artists and academics will come together to discuss “Art, War and Peace: Responses to the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq.” The event has been organized by Dr. Alan Ingram, whose Responses to Iraq blog offers an overview of “Iraqi War Art” in the UK from 2003-present.

Ingram’s interest came, he said, because, “Art is an important way people and societies make sense of war and struggle against it. It gradually became apparent to me that there was a wider range of responses to the war through art than usually recognized, and that studying them could provide deeper understanding of it and alternative perspectives on it. I also found my own feelings and ideas about the war reflected and challenged by artists’ responses. Once I started looking more into things, the more interesting they got.”

Ingram noted that one of the key sources for him was Edward Said’s introduction to Culture and Imperialism.

Among the speakers at the March 22 event will be visual artist Satta Hashem, talking about, among other things, “the relationship between art work and political violence.”

Excerpts from three questions with Hashem:

ArabLit: Did the invasion of 2003 also make a change for you, artistically? A change for your audience?

Satta Hashem: The hope that came with the toppling of the old regime, which faded very fast, was the only change that I could record. After that the hope became a disappointment and feeling of loss and alienation. Now I have given up all of that hope and I have surrendered to the savages who dominate Iraq.

This is reflected (unconsciously) very clearly in my drawing. The theme has not changed from mythological reality, a depiction of the struggle between life and death in a metaphorical way, but added to it are new elements derived from the civil war and stories of real living people in the heart of the conflict, in larger size drawings than previously. Thus the new theme of suicide bombers and widows appear frequently, according to the news and events that I follow day by day through the media and in direct telephone conversations with my relatives in Iraq.

Unfortunately, I do not really know how the audience would react, because I do not often exhibit and show these diary drawings (which are now more than two and half thousand) in my exhibitions, as I fear they could become propaganda tools in the hands of political opportunists, while the people of Iraq are dying every day.

AL: How has your idea of the relationship between “art” and “war” changed since the first Gulf War and the war diary?

SH: It became more constant and took longer than I had thought. I never imagined that my paintings and drawings would become a battle field, instead of a dancing party for the soul.

When I look back especially on my drawings during these twenty two years, I feel as if I was living in an epoch of the deaf; the same screams, fear, terror, horror, again and again and again.

AL: You have thought a lot about history … do you think art has a long, persistent relationship with war, or it has changed in recent years?

SH: The theme of war in Iraqi art, has become established in the past forty years or so, as an artistic form of protest against the political situation lead by the Baath Party and its ideology which forced our country into many wars and destruction; it is a continuation of the theme – politics and art – which was started by some progressive artists in the fifties. This theme has changed subject many times, but it is still at the heart of many artists’ creation, and will continue to be present as long as Iraqis struggle for real democracy and peace.

In my case I fought against Saddam’s military machine and wars for three years, as a partisan in the north of Iraq, 1980 – 1983. I describe my contribution, as a witness of this regime’s crimes against humanity. I did many drawings and paintings during my time in the war. Many of my sketches from then are still with me. Therefore when I draw or paint on this theme, I feel profoundly the pain and suffering of all those who have found themselves in the midst of such conflicts and atrocities.

1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on Art & War: Responses to Iraq and commented:
    A great short interview with Satta Hashem ahead of the Mosaic Rooms workshop this Friday.

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