Iraq's artists lament decline in cultural life

Wed Mar 14, 2012 10:30am EDT
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By Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Yasir Abdul-Hakim, a sculpture student at Iraq's Fine Arts Academy, wanted to learn his craft by making copies of a nude Greek statue. A professor told him to cover them with clothes.

He covered the first one, but the second one he copied naked, as it was.

"One of the professors told me: 'What are you doing? You are exposing your life to danger'," Abdul-Hakim said with a bitter smile.

"I would like to do nude models from Greek civilization. But I cannot execute them due to the religious tide we are in, which no one can deny," he said. "If my professor at college accepts it, society outside will not."

Although Iraq is safer than in the darkest days of sectarian violence, many of its artists, filmmakers, musicians and performers say they are being stifled by religious conservatism and, with the government focused on reconstruction and security, missing the state support they once enjoyed.

Under Saddam Hussein, the government commissioned paintings and sculptures, and funded orchestras and theatres, to glorify the nation and its dictator.

But since Saddam was toppled in 2003, Iraq has been dominated by Islamist political parties from the previously suppressed Shi'ite majority. Newly influential clerics deem enjoying painting, sculpture and music as a sin, and much of the official support has disappeared.

The Fine Arts Academy still exists and receives state funding, but students and teachers complain that it is no longer adequate for a proper education.   Continued...

Yasir Abdul-Hakim, a sculpture student, works on a sculpture at Iraq's Fine Arts Academy in Baghdad March 6, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen