March/April 2005


Mural conceived and executed by a fine arts professor, evoking Iraqi history.

Baghdad's blast wall art
By Roger Hearing
BBC News, Baghdad

Art finds a place amid a scarred city's sandbags and concrete

In a dull Baghdad world of concrete and razor-wire, chicanes and blast barriers, a little colour has just re-appeared.

Every official building or media base these days has a frontage of four-metre (13ft) high concrete walls to protect against bombs and mortars, but Iraqis have begun to see the grey expanse as a public canvas.

There is of course graffiti, but mostly great swirling apolitical exuberance - everything from retro-Chagall to prog-rock album-cover teenage fantasies.

Outside the French embassy, just two doors down from the BBC bureau, there is a profusion of images - wild horses, flying carpets, impossible towers and minarets, as well as a simple scene of an Iraqi farmer in a tractor coming back to his wife and children at the close of the day.

On almost every section there is a dove - the symbol of a peace Iraqis do not yet know.

Academic approach

The Reuters news agency's building has a pattern of flowers and Iraqi flags, and next door has some attempts at what seems to be vaguely-remembered Picassos.

And the BBC's house? Well I have to say, it is impressive.

A professor of fine art was called in, I was told, and he produced, over many weeks, an elaborate tribute to the ancient history of his people across the fortifications of our building.

Angular, bearded Assyrian heads mingle with Sumerian ziggurats, Babylonian chariots and visions of rulers and wars long past - perhaps an aide-memoire that this country has been through difficult times before. And survived.

Elsewhere in the city, security means glimpses of the art generally have to be snatched through curtained windows of our minivan - but the pattern of current popular expression all over Baghdad seems to be much the same - history or fantasy.

Saddam's many guises

As long as I have been coming here, there has been plenty of public art. In the past, however, there was one subject - Saddam Hussein.

Saddam in many guises - as Western playboy, as Arab sheikh, even on one occasion as a Kremlin communist complete with fur hat, but always Saddam, displayed on huge hoardings around the city squares.

And always depicted in the heroic socialist-realism style dictators seem to favour.

They have all gone of course, and with them any feeling of artistic restriction, apparently.

All is possible now it seems - even if the blast walls that have become the artists' gallery are things most Iraqis would sooner be without.


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