"I am soaked in catastrophe like a sponge."
So states Hana Malallah a major artist based in Baghdad who is currently in exile in London.
Hana Malallah is a prominent contemporary artist who has been teaching at the College of Fine Arts in Baghdad University until last fall ( October 2006), when she reluctantly left the city.
She said recently in London
"My work is about catastrophe. I am soaked in catastrophe like a sponge. I am stamped by Iraq's wars.
During the Iran Iraq war I was 20. There has been war after war.
My pen is a knife. "
This painting is called Baghdad City Map, 2007
The canvas has been burned and painted with black as a record of the destruction of the city. The one green star is a reference to the stars of the Iraq flag, the black stars refer to the US flag.This work is part of an ongoing series about Baghdad the city. Here is another one.
Hana survived the Iran Iraq War, the First Gulf War and most of the most recent war. She is a deeply committed artist who has left here city only to get the word out
"I didn't want to leave my country. I want to do a project about the burning city so the world knows what I have seen. When I was in Iraq, every time I was in the street I had to know that I might die at any moment. I passed many dead people everyday, I took a minibus to work that had to follow long detours because the streets are blocked. Troops are everywhere. When I go shopping there are soldiers with guns pointed. I lived without electricity, water, little food, one hour of electricity if you are lucky. Hell is more comfortable than Iraq.
Baghdad was a beautiful city like London."
She had major works on display in the Modern Museum in Baghdad which have now disappeared as have all of the works in the museum although the scholar Nada Shabout is working to locate them.
Each page of this large format book refers to Baghdad's history and destruction. The City of Baghdad was laid out in a circle in by al Mansour in the mide 8th century AD at the founding of the Abbasid Dynasty. The Abbasids sponsored a flowering of Islamic culture for several centuries.
Ineffective Game I
Anyone can play by moving the red squares around. Obviously it is a reference to the futility of the current situation in Baghdad, and the pointless games played by all participants. It is also a reference to the invention of games in ancient Mesopotamia such as the Royal Game of Ur.
Hana Malallah bases the pattern on the surface on the Sumerian patterns on pottery. She has studied the geometric principles of Islamic painting
and here disrupts that perfect order
The cone like projections are based on the ornamentation of the Temple of Warka in Iraq
Her generation of Iraqi artists emerged during the Iran Iraq war. They were unable to travel abroad, so they studied the history of Mesopotamia and incorporated references to archeological history in their contemporary paintings at the newly established Iraq Archeological Museum only steps away from the Institute of Fine Arts. For Hana Mal Allah the destruction of the archeological museum was a major part of the catastrophe of war, it was a place where she used to spend days studying the art. It is part of her heart and soul.
Hana wrote in Strokes of Genius Contemporary Iraqi Art, ed by Maysaloun Faraj Saqi Books 2001
"Those artists who choose to remain in Iraq despite all the obstacles are building new aesthetic and epistemological values in painting which are drawn entirely from the Iraqi reality with all its current influences and shifting sands." (64)
For more images of Hana Malallah's work see www.ayagallery.co.uk The Aya Gallery, London, which recently hosted a two person show with Hana Mal Allah and Rashad Selim . More on the art of Rashad Selim in another posting.
For a film on these artists see