Reposted from OnlineAhwa.
I am Baghdad III, 2008, acrylic, charcoal and marker pen on Arabic newspaper on canvas, 48″ x 48″- 122 cm x 122 cm
The portrait above gazes out at its audience, grabs its attention and commands it to listen. I Am Baghdad III is one of a series of paintings by Iraqi artist Ayad Alkadhi in which he narrates individual Iraqi responses to the post-occupation Iraq. He has taken a single Iraqi face, his own, and overlaid it with visual elements that recount his interviews with Iraqi citizens.
Ayad Alkadhi has purposefully left the interpretation of the portrait’s story up to the viewer (Griffith). One possible interpretation is shaped by the colors that he has chosen and color symbolism. Black and white, the primary colors used in the portrait, are significant in many cultures. In Arabic, black is associated with death, hell, and past wars (Hasan 208). White, on the other hand, has generally positive meanings, with “white-hearted” conveying innocence and the “white dove” and “white revolution” being peaceful (Al-Aladeih 8). Based on these colors and their connotations, the individual in this image mourns the death of war and desires peace and innocence in the future. This interpretation is supported by Ayad Alkadhi’s own statements that his main purpose is to communicate emotion (Shangri La).
I Am Baghdad III was painted in 2008, following years of violence in Iraq, and the events surrounding its creation play a key role. The painting is literally against a backdrop of current events, as represented by the Iraqi and Palestinian newspapers that connect the work to local and international contexts (Griffith). The international connections include the Palestinian newspapers and the football player in the corner, while the Iraqi newspapers likely report on the US invasion of Iraq as well as sectarian violence, bombings carried out against civilians and the breakdown in infrastructure such as clean water (BBC, Ditmars)
According the Alkadhi, “painted words give the notion of a story being told,” but these words are simply a collection of letters without literal meaning (Alkadhi). This gives the viewer the opportunity to interpret the story being told. The letters are large and bold yet translucent, suggesting transience or fragility. The movement and size gives them life. Combined with the covered mouth, the letters pull the viewer inside the consciousness of the portrait, highlighting the beauty and fragility of the inner life. The absence of any explicit message prevents the painting from being used as propaganda (Alkadhi).
In addition to its storytelling value, Arabic calligraphy is often used in modern art as a means of connecting with an older artistic tradition, and this is certainly true for Alkadhi (Al-Sadoun). He states that calligraphy is one of the “creative nuances” of Islamic culture, used in contemporary work as a “calling card” (Griffith).
As an Iraqi living in America, Alkadhi has often been asked about the Iraq War by Americans who want more information than the news provides (Alkadhi). Alkadhi connects this with the desire for emotional information, and painted the I Am Baghdad series to bridge this gap between his Iraqi friends and his American friends (Alkadhi). His combination of a face, symbolic colors, and current events emphasize the individual experience of war and suffering.
Al-Adaileh, Bilal A. “The Connotations of Arabic Color Terms.” Linguistica Online, Issue 13, 2012, http://www.phil.muni.cz/linguistica/art/al-adaileh/ada-001.pdf. Accessed 8 Apr. 2017.
Alkadhi, Ayad. “I Am Baghdad III.” 2008. http://aalkadhi.com/content/I_am_baghdad/baghdad_html/3.htm. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.
Ditmars, Hadani. “Post Invasion Iraq – the facts.” New Internationalist Magazine, Issue 432, 2010, https://newint.org/features/2010/05/01/post-invasion-iraq-facts/. Accessed 8 Apr. 2017.
Griffith, Lesa. “Ayad Alkadhi on ‘I Am Baghdad XV.’” Honolulu Museum of Art, http://blog.honoluluacademy.org/ayad-alkadhi-on-i-am-baghdad-xv/. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.
Hasan, Amna A. et al. “How Colours are Semantically Construed in the Arabic and English Culture: A Comparitive Study.” English Language Teaching, vol. 4, no. 3, 2011, http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1080712.pdf. Accessed 8 Apr. 2017.
“Iraq Profile – Timeline.” BBC News, 5 Dec. 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14546763. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.
“Ayad Alkadhi Talks About His Experiences as an Artist & Resident at Shangri La.” Shangri La: Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, 11 Feb. 2013, http://blog.shangrilahawaii.org/wordpress/ayad-alkadhi-experiences-as-an-artist-and-resident-at-shangri-la/. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.
“Quest to Belong by Ayad Alkadhi.” Vimeo, uploaded by Shangri La Hawaii, 2013, http://www.shangrilahawaii.org/Programs/Calendar-of-Events/Alkadhi-Lecture/.