Yousif BG

Yousif Naser

One constant theme evident in Yousif's numerous, paintings and drawings is the suffering of Iraq and the pain of exile. His largest project Black Rain is an ongoing undertaking, which began as a painting project during the build up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It quickly acquired momentum and generated much local media coverage. Gradually it evolved into a a series of paintings comprising of multi-and-single media works, ranging from gigantic canvases to small drawings, collages and paintings, all inspired by the horrors of war. Yousif Naser

Yousif has exhibited his work in Iraq, Lebanon, Norway, Belgium,Germany, France, Italy, Cyprus, Syria and the United Kingdom and participated in group exhibitions in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

Yousif Naser was born in Amara, Iraq in 1952. He has been painting and drawing from an early age.

His early years were a mixture of education and menial labour including work on buiding sites.

In 1975 he graduated from the academy of fine art in Baghdad with a BA in Fine Arts and worked as a designer for the Iraqi Communist Party's daily newspaper Tariq Al Shaab (The road of the people). The life of exile began on 5th February 1979 when he fled to Lebanon after the Baathist regime began persecuting all political activists. He started working as an art designer for magazines produced by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon prompted him to leave for Syria where he continued his work for the PLO.

In 1984 Yousif decided to move to Cyprus in search of greener pastures. His job as art director for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society lasted until 1990 when Saddam's armies invaded Kuwait. The Palestinians supported the invasion, the Iraqis in exile did not and the PLO refused to renew his residency visa. His final move was to London ,He settled in Ealing, West London. Yousif also established himself as an art critic for London-based Arab dailies. In 1993 he set up the Iraqi Artists Union (IAU) for exiled artists.

His life and career changed dramatically in 1997 when a friend told him about a vacant building, belonging to West London's Churches in South Eailng. Soon after acquiring the premises, Yousif was joined by fellow artist Dalal Mufti who worked tirelessly to establish a community arts project. The ARK was named after the ark in the epic of Gilgamesh dating back 4,700 years ago. It has always been a non-profit making, voluntary organisation depending solely on the generosity and good will of its members."We were trying to provide a 'safe-haven', a platform for innovative artists, who could not easily find a venue to display their unique work. They exchanged views, shared experiences, motivated and assisted one another in a supportive environment, artists would display their work, musicians performed, poets read their compositions. It was an arts' bazaar (souk)," Yousif explained. During the past fifteen years it show-cased neglected aspects of cultural diversity, hosted hundreds of events, ranging from art exhibitions and classes, musical and film evenings and lectures. Thousands benenfited from its activities.

Until 2004, it was growing from strength to strength as Ealing's only voluntary arts' venue. Then disaster struck. Ealing Council had sold the building andthe ARK was evicted. As meagre compensation alternative premises were provided.

The ARK continued its activities. Sadly Dalal passed away in 2004. There was a steady turnover of voluntary members of the steering committee but Yousif has always been the mainstay of the project.

In February 2007, ‘poem in a studio' became a weekly event. It is one of his most successful projects and Yousif became London's ‘Mr Iraqi Culture'. The meetings, characterised by a homely, cordial atmosphere, have moved from an informal get together, where friends sit, talk and read poems to screenings of rare and contemporary Iraqi films and lectures.

But Ealing Council rained on his parade once again. Yousif had to vacate the premises in December 2008 as the area will be re-developed into a shoppinng centre. The council has offered alternative premises in the Old Acton Town Hall and the ARK is continuing its activities.

(Karen Dabrowska)

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