Art Comment Quarterly
"The signature of a civilization is its Art." Thanks for your [ArtVitae.com's] good work. - Cynthia Banas, Voices in the Wilderness
Editor's note: Cynthia is presently on her way to Iraq to help provide comfort for the women and children of this troubled region.
Preview: "Live from Baghdad: Art Exhibition and Sale"
Open throughout March 2004
The looting of the Iraqi National Museum of Archaeology during the chaos surrounding U.S. lead invasion of Iraq was well documented by the Media worldwide. But did you know that their National Art Gallery,The Saddam Arts Center, was also looted and virtually destroyed. Opportunistic Iraqis can be found peddling rolled up bundles of Iraqi Modern Art Masterpieces on the streets and alleyways of old Baghdad.
Perhaps surprisingly the period of time between the so-called Gulf Wars I and II was a relatively thriving time for many Iraqi artists. Talented Bagdadi artists became recognised and collected worldwide, due in great part to the market created by the presence of Western diplomats, journalists, and other NGO workers. A good depiction of the heady art scene during that period was described by Robert Collier of the San Franciso Chronicle in his article 'In Baghdad, Art Thrives As War Hovers'. Unfortunately, since this last War, those former markets have dried up almost completely.
Qasim Al-Septi is an artist who also runs the Hewar Gallery located in Wazeriyah near the center of Baghdad. Qasim told ArtVitae.com that he sold his car in order to pay a looter for a 'stash' of important 'Pioneer Period' paintings. The Pioneers were the seminal proponents and advocates of the nascent modern art movement that erupted in turn-of-the-20th-century Iraq. Qasim has them locked away in safe place until such time that he can donate them to a new and secure Iraqi National Museum of Art.
Qasim's example is but one of many dreadful yet fascinating and heroic stories reported by the tenacious artists still trying to survive and be productive in the surreal world that is present-day Baghdad.
American artist and journalist Steve Mumford entered Iraq the day the statues fell in Baghdad and has recorded his experiences in a series of watercolours and writen reports. Please read his "Baghdad Journals" , first published in ArtNet.com, for extremely perceptive and illuminating insights into Post Saddam era art in Iraq.
No matter what are your politics surrounding this last war, given decades of repression under the former regime, years of crippling UN sanctions, this latest invasion, and an ongoing guerrilla war, it must be clear to everyone that the losers in all this are the Iraqi people - and their artists may well be among those worst affected.
One of the participatants in this Exhibition will be Esam Pasha, a talented artist and grandson of murdered former royal Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Said. Because of the slump in the art market and having fluent English skills Esam has accepted employment with the American military as a translator. "I've eased explosive situations at checkpoints when we've stopped cars containing men's sisters and wives," he relates. Like the members of the unfortunate Iraqi Police Force, Pasha endangers his life - for $10 a day.
With two thirds of Iraqis unemployed, a decimated infrastructure, and the exit of many of their best former patrons - the employees and dependents of Western embassies and NGOs, Baghdadi artists are now truly in dire straits.
In an attempt to revive this faltering artistic renaissance, Artvitae.com in conjunction with the Hewar Gallery has organized "Live from Baghdad" an online exhibition and sale artworks by Baghdadi artists. The exhibition will be held throughout the month of March 2004.
Visitors to the site will be able to 'chat' with the artists via live email links. Here is an unusual opportunity to get personal insights and viewpoints from these artists. Haggling and sales made during the exhibition will be reminiscent of the bazaars of old.
ArtVitae.com will not be taking any fees or commissions from the sales made from "Live from Baghdad". Please lend your support to these important and deserving artists. At the same time, you could also be doing yourself a favour by purchasing artworks that are destined to be very collectible.
A Conversation with David Cohen,
Art Critic for the New York Sun
In response to our previous discussion in Art Comment Winter '03/'04 on the topic of Intention Versus Interpretation in Art, artist Carson Collins offers us a dialogue he had with David Cohen on that same subject.
"By intention I don't mean that the artist consciously has this or that fully articulated objective in mind at the moment of creation and that the success of the work is somehow mortgaged to the extent to which it was followed through. That would indeed be banal and reductive, robbing art (and for that matter ambiguity) of its organic quality, its ability to live and thrive independently of its originators' intentions..."
- David Cohen
Why should a work of art have any right to exist independently of it's creator's intentions? Does Mr. Cohen really think that important art is somehow done by accident, or that the critic's rationalizations are somehow more important than the original act? Or what, exactly?
I do think that it is precisely this question of intention that is, tragically, missing from most so-called critical dialogue about contemporary art...
1. Our museums are packed with objects rightly the focus of intense aesthetic regard that are utterly divorced from their makers' intentions, not to mention the value systems of the cultures in which they were produced. Furthermore, most artists I know are perfectly happy for their works to be admired, praised, or bought and sold for the "wrong" - that is to say unintended - reasons. One artist said to me, early in my career, there's no bad reason to like a work of art.
2. Do children have a right to exist independently of their parents' dreams for them?
3. I'm not aware of having placed "critics' rationalization" above "original act" in some hierarchy of values. The work of viewing and of making are relatively separate, and each situation is valid on its own terms.
Artists, Incidentally, are also critics of their own work. They mull over their happy accidents, and not only tolerate but learn from unintended results. Can't see much that's tragic about that.
We do often find beauty or significance in the chance arrangement of things, whether done by an artist or an accident; an historical accident, in the case of the museum pieces to which you refer. And, as Carl Jung pointed out with his concept of synchronicity, this is far from trivial - it tells us something important about ourselves (and nothing in particular about the object).
Artists indeed may deliberately use seemingly accidental means to arrive at something that is, for them, intentional. . . .
Read the complete text of 'A Conversation with David Cohen'.
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