Iraqi art scene suffers as bombers hit public spaces, apathy sets in

Wed Sep 18, 2013 1:29pm EDT
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By Sylvia Westall

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - In a compound ringed with barbed wire in Baghdad, a small group of Iraqi artists gather to sip tea and soft drinks in the shady patches of a walled garden.

For artist Qasim Sabti, who runs the adjoining private gallery, the intimacy of the scene is familiar. Baghdad's cultural community is dwindling and confining itself to refuges like this one as violence rises in the city, he said.

Baghdad was named the 2013 Arab Capital of Culture by the Arab League, but the worst wave of bombings in Iraq in five years is taking its toll on public activities of all kinds, especially in the capital.

"We were dreaming that the Arab festival would help Baghdad become a center of Arab culture again. But the dream did not come true," Sabti said.

Eighteen months since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq, suicide attackers wearing explosives or planting bombs in cars have increasingly targeted public spaces such as cafes and sports events.

Sabti's gallery now sees only one or two visitors a month in a district where there have been frequent bomb attacks.

The violence, and more than two years of civil war in neighboring Syria, has aggravated deep-rooted sectarian divisions. As public life and opportunities to socialise shrink, communities are even more divided, Sabti says.

"Iraqi society is a mosaic - you can see all of the colors," he said, referring to the different religious and ethnic backgrounds of the population. "Now the picture is disappearing, it is broken."   Continued...

Iraqi artist Ahmed al-Khazali paints in his workshop at a gallery in Baghdad's Karrada district, September 18, 2013. Iraq has a long history in the arts, particularly sculpture, a staple of artistic life here since ancient times. REUTERS/ Thaier Al-Sudani