Black Rain Experience
During the build up to the recent war in Iraq, like all Iraqis I went through a very difficult time.
Fear and worry overwhelmed me as I sensed the oncoming danger. These feelings are far from alien to me as I had encountered them through the series of catastrophes that have happened to my country since my youth.
Here in the studio, I was faced with the urge to do something.
In a state of despondency, I started making sketches on paper... painting in a semi-dead state...a bitter taste in my mouth.
If war breaks out, it will be the last! - so they said- referring to other wars we had been through undeservedly in the past. The war may well be that long expected rain! What price do we have to pay to break that tragic vicious circle in which we are caught. Shall we name it ‘Black Rain'?
No sooner than the first drops of blood were shed on the 20th March 2003, this numb despondency suddenly transformed itself into a creative, nervous urge to do something - anything! I felt panic stricken and terrified. It was as if each moment of delay on my part would result in another drop of blood.
Now I felt responsible for the entire world. (I did say I was panic stricken!)
War invaded my studio at this point. War images started to grow on the walls. News flashes blared out of the two radios I had placed strategically in my studio - one corner short wave, another corner medium wave. The phone rang incessantly and friends streamed in and out of my studio.
The usual paintings on the wall of my studio were removed along with the chairs. I replaced the paintings with large sheets of paper all the way round the four walls of the studio, inserting in between them all sorts of printed material about the war: newspaper cuttings, maps, photographs...etc. Pictures depicting scenes of explosions, destruction, planes, war helmets, rifles, smoke, sand stained by the leaking tanks (I scattered sand in my studio entrance and dripped oil on it - serving as a constant reminder). Corpses clothed in rags and covered in newspapers strewn
in deserted roads, pictures of soldiers with their hands raised, wearing expressions of total horror, in a state of shock; or is it submission? Or perhaps they were raised in prayer; pleading to the ancient Gods of Mesopotamia, who they created thousands of years ago, who have deserted them in their hour of need and left them to meet their ominous fate.
More pictures covered the walls - of faces contorted with fear - pictures, pictures and more pictures. Handsome young soldiers who have crossed many oceans and deserts to kill or die - they smile naively at times, gesturing hesitantly, vague symbols of victory. They look as if at any moment, without hesitation, they would hand back their guns and rifles to their owners and leap into the Euphrates river for a swim.
Pictures of all kind; what was I to do with them all?
I avoided long ago the temptation to illustrate the scream but rather sought to express the pain.
After days of sketching, my obsessions began to take a specific form on the paper.
But this archive of pain, drawn from such seductive elements was a slippery slope to embark upon.
An artist, when confronted by such cataclysmic events, becomes aware of his inadequacy. Overwhelmed, he may forget that to be an effective artist, he must deliberate slowly over his response. He may impetuously feel the need to hold up his hand and join the chorus of denunciation and abhorrence at the injustices of the war, but in doing so he will lose his grip and his effectiveness. The siren must be heard and responded to, but never at the expense of a painting.
Is this not torturous knowledge in such times? To feel the desperate need to scream and yet know that an artist must withhold his first response and wait for a deeper voice to emerge. But I tried hard not to discount the understanding I had acquired during the course of these terrible events, for I knew that if I were to do otherwise it would be at the expense of the essence of being an artist.
A year on, in the aftermath of war...I am still painting in the same tone. There is still a lot of pain.