Artist's work rises from Baghdad's ashes

Fri Jul 13, 2012 10:02am EDT
 
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By Sylvia Westall

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - As Baghdad burned, Iraqi artist Qasim Sabti headed for one of the places he loved the most - the Academy of Fine Arts - only to find thousands of its books and archives on fire.

It was April 2003 and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, begun in March, had reached the capital.

Sabti, who had seen the blaze from his balcony in central Baghdad, recounts the destruction of 6,000 books on art and how he tried to recover just a handful from the flames.

"I tried to save a Russian landscape book. I loved it, I always looked at Russian artists for how to do landscapes and used them to teach my students," he said.

"I see this book and this huge fire, so I put my hand out to save this book. The fire touched my fingers and the text fell into the fire and the only the cover of the book stayed in my hand."

The loss of the books was a huge blow for the academy, which had struggled to build up its collection in recent years as a result of sanctions and meager funding.

But for Sabti, the damaged books also became a source of artistic inspiration that stayed with him for nearly a decade.

"When I looked at this cover, I saw something artistic - the secret life of the text," he said, pointing to the delicate webbed binding of a hardback book, dissected by fire and water.   Continued...

 
Iraqi artist Qasim Sabti speaks about the 2003 U.S.-led invasion during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad, July 11, 2012. As Baghdad burned in 2003, Sabti headed for one of the places he loved the most - the Academy of Fine Arts - only to find thousands of its books and archives on fire. Picture taken July 11, 2012. To match Interview IRAQ-ART/ REUTERS/Saad Shalash