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Un Biglietto per Baghdad
(A Ticket to Baghdad)

by Claudia Zanfi

April 2002: a group of Italian photographers set off for Baghdad on a cultural mission. Aim of the mission: to organise a series of international exchanges concerning Iraqi photography, to set up seminars and workshops with students and indigenous artists, thus offering a way out of a situation of cultural isolation which has lasted more than a decade. The journey is organised by an Onlus Association (“A Bridge to…”) which, together with a group of professional photographers, has started the rebuilding of the Art & Photography Library of Baghdad.

Babilonia

Samarra

Cinema

Architettura

The city welcomes the foreign visitor with its overwhelming beauty, the air thick with a sense of mystery. Lying on the banks of the Tigris, partly rebuilt and partly still in ruins after the war, Baghdad reveals its secrets only to those who are able to see through the spaces, through the silence, through the cacophony of images overlying the giant portraits of the president. You need to listen carefully to this city, haunted as it is by all its ghosts: its glorious past, its silent present, its fearful future. Observing and listening is the only way to exorcise these spectres and rediscover the true face of a city which has been forgotten, isolated and abandoned to itself.
Our meeting with a number of interesting Iraqi artists took place largely through the official channels of the Iraqi Photographers’ Association; others were contacted through the Academy of Fine Arts, and others still through even more chance meetings. Despite it having been almost impossible for them to keep abreast of the international artistic and cultural developments of the last 10 years, the development of Iraqi photography projects has never quite ground to a halt. In particular, the younger generations are striving towards greater experimental projects while the older generations tend to concern themselves with the themes at the heart of the photographic tradition – light and shade, lighting, shadows, reflections, portraits, typical (and at times rather conventional) scenes, landscapes.

This visit made us want to draw greater attention to a selection of the works we saw. ADEL AL TAI, co-ordinator of the meetings with Iraqi photographers, had the chance to study in Paris (at the beginning of the ‘70s) and to develop a research project of his own based on the intrinsic qualities of light reflected through metaphorical windows.
ALI TALEB, born in Baghdad in 1963, has taken part in various international exhibitions with the “World Press Prizes”. His work explores modern Iraqi culture: from the landscape shots to those of the most characteristic faces of the country.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, LATIF EL ANI, undoubtedly one of the most well-known artists of the country, carried out an intense documentary project on different areas and architecture showing the growth of the cities and urban development with his masterful use of black & white and his intriguing use of angles and framing.

Adel Al Tai

Hadi Al Najjar

Mazgen Rasheed

LUAY AL SHEKLI, a young student of photography at the Academy of Fine Arts, works with female subjects (almost always his own sisters), in order to investigate what it means to be a woman today in Iraq.
MAZGEN RASHEED (the only female artist we met) born in 1962 in Mosul in Northern Iraq, graduated in engineering at the University of Baghdad, and then followed art courses in order to better express herself in this context. Her beautiful photographic collages, presented in various exhibitions not only in Iraq, express the difficulties in communication between men, between men and women, between man and god, between people and power.
OMAR ALMATHEDE, born in 1969, studies personal identity through segments of portraits, focusing his attention on the subject’s gaze.
SAAD DAINAL, a student of Adel AL Tai, photographs signs, aspects of colour (in this case, red) in an intimate research project abstracting objects from their surroundings.
HADI AL NAJJAR, born in 1957 in Kerbala (a holy city 120 kilometres south of Baghdad), works as a professional photographer in a well-equipped studio frequented regularly by the above-mentioned artists. The poetry in his work revolves around aspects of light and shade, and shadow games in which a series of reflections and thoughts are to be found.