Tag Archives: culture

Iraq’s Artists Exhibit in Venice

Because there is more on Iraq than war and destruction.

London-based Channel 4 airs a short clip of Iraqi artists’ exhibit in Venice. My heart ached yet grew airy to learn about Iraqi art and culture in exile. It is sad that these artists cannot go back to Iraq and exhibit their work there too.

Crashing Stereotypes

If you watch Crash, at first you would think the movie is racist. But what is racist, and how do we judge it? While the movie throws many racial language and images, it does not really tell us what is racist. It does, nonetheless, draws an interesting picture of what racism is. Racism stems from ignorance.

Typical stereotypic images presented included white district attorney buys off a black cop, Hispanic man with shaved head and tattoos, and Persian woman wearing hijab are prevalent in the movie. It is up to the viewer to judge who is racist among them. As the movie unfolds one finds interesting twist: those we thought were victims turn out to be offenders, and vice versa. For example, a Persian man is pictured trying to buy a gun. The all-proud American shop owner, irritated by the man’s inability to speak well, refuses to carry out the transaction and asks him to leave. The man is upset because he thinks he was discriminated against by the shop owner. Later, the Persian man tries to commit a murder. And he failed. Initially, I had a clear picture of who is the victim, but later in the movie that changed. Now, it is not just black and white. I’m not justifying the actions of either men but simply saying that I’m more aware of the circumstances that not only allowed the American dude to refuse the Persian the transaction, but also that made the latter almost commit a crime. I think being aware of these complexities helps us better understand people, ourselves and our biases.

Another example is a white male policeman pulls over a black couple in a Cadillac Escalade. The cop searches the affluent couple, touches the wife inappropriately in a defying gesture, waiting for the couple to react so he can arrest them, or to apologize for something they have not committed – humiliate them. The cop’s white partner protests initially but submits eventually. The movie establishes two things here: institutionalized racism and white supremacy. Clearly, it was race of the couple what prompted the cop to stop and humiliate them. So, I developed a negative attitude towards this cop. I made assumptions based on that one incident. Later, however, the cop almost lost his own life saving another’s of a black person during a car accident. Ironically, it was that same person he searched, touched inappropriately earlier. So, I think these conflicting notions made me slightly at unease calling the cop racist. I mean he IS racist for pulling over the black couple, but he is also NOT racist because he saved the life of a black person..?

Apart from that, in the movie, men are depicted as leaders, whereas women as servers. Examples range from a black secretary and white district attorney, to a Hispanic cop as black detective assistant. Movie starts with a scene of two women in a car accident: Asian and a Hispanic. LA officer writes a report and talks to victims, trying to calm them down and control the situation. Sitting in the car, next to the Hispanic women, is a police detective who investigates a crime scene. He gives orders to cops – who appeared to be mostly women work under him. Furthermore, I noticed that women are generally silenced and unheard. For example, the district attorney’s secretary spoke only a line or two in the movie; district attorney’s wife was often ignored. I believe that the movie not only address these issues in an impartial way, but also helps us examine ourselves from an outsider perspective. Do we think of women like that when we go on our daily lives? Is that how we view women at work, school, etc.?

I think this movie really helps us examine racial and social complexities from afar and so we can educate and correct ourselves when we err. I don’t know, just thought this is something we can ponder.

3iraqi Identity

Beautifully created by May Asaad.

Warning! 3iraqi culture and 3arabi words ahead.

It appears as an instagramed painting from afar. Upon a closer look, thirty distinct mini paintings appear. Ranging from samoon (bread) and nakhal (palm trees) to lala (lantern), argila (hookah), to Arabi coffee, these beautifully organized pictures tell us a story about Iraqi food, music, and culture.

The very first picture in the left upper corner is the well-known delish Iraqi bread, samoon. It is very unique to Iraq. Neighboring countries have a variety of this kind, but none tastes the same. When I arrived the US it was difficult to get a hold of Arabic food, let alone Iraqi bread. In Chicago, I used to commute for almost an hour to buy Iraqi bread, spices, and kabab. The first picture on the upper right side is an isteekan – tea cup. Virtually every Iraqi I know drinks tea. It was probably introduced to Iraq during the British occupation during 1910s. Ever since, Iraqis drink tea in the morning, at work, in school, after napping, and serve it to guests. It is inseparable of the culture. Some went as far as ‘deciphering’ the word isteekan as eeest teee kan, or ‘east tea can’ – presumably what the British called the cute little small cups tea is served in.

Furthermore, the picture in the bottom right shows red yashmagh – traditional head cloth worn by men. This is not a hijab – head scarf, or veil – but a piece of cloth worn by men signifying reverence, respect, and tradition. I associate my culture with yashmagh because not only I wore it multiple times, but also because it has historical significance. It is believed that yashmagh was inspired by Babylonians, 2nd century BCE, who used clothes with similar knitting pattern to fight off evil spirits. It has evolved to symbolize resistance and freedom during colonial era.

On the other side, bottom left, a picture of shanasheel during evening. Shanasheel are traditional Iraqi architectural buildings from Ottoman Empire time. They denote sophistication, as well as, historical and cultural heritage. Remainder of pictures represents different aspects of home.

This collage can potentially be limiting and confusing to non-Iraqis. There are many assumptions made while making it: familiarity with music, food, etc. I have a memory for every picture. Not all of these pictures have mere historical relevance. Some remind me of times during Hussain’s regime, such as second picture in bottom left of a square with a stick. We used to utilize this during programmed power outage in hot weather. Power was cut once a day for two hours. Apart from that, there are few pictures used to convey religious and political ideas. I personally may not associate myself with these pictures; however, they are still culturally relevant. I shared this collage in class and someone pointed out that these pictures represent me. It is probably assumed so because of the nature of these pictures: mosque and flag.

I shared the self-portrait on Facebook and Twitter. Some of my contacts “liked” it, and others “retweeted” it. Those were mainly Iraqis! I think it is the case because they could relate to the portrait. It really speaks to Iraqis in a way that only those who lived and experienced life in Iraq would understand. Also, for those living abroad, Arabic words on some pictures stir feelings of nostalgia and belonging. If I want to reconstruct my life back home it will be comprised of twenty eight pieces. It’s rather interesting how powerful pictures presented in a certain way can be.

This collage always serves as a reminder for me to go on and continue doing what I do best.  It motivates me to succeed academically, excel intellectually, and continue being an extrovert social bee. 😀

Art Tells a Story: “Kissing doesn’t kill: greed and indifference do.”


Image Title: Kissing Doesn’t Kill (Color postcard)
Creator: Gran Fury

I came across a poster that read “Kissing does not kill: greed and indifference do,” above a picture of three couples making out. It is the picture what draws the viewer’s attention for a fraction of a second. The line above it, then, complements the picture and tells its story. On a white background, the poster depicted biracial, multiethnic heterosexual, gay, and lesbian couples. The three couples looked like as if they were frozen in a moment in time, infatuated by their significant other. However, there is a distinct, rather deliberate affection difference between the heterosexual, gay and lesbian couples. The heterosexual couple were making out casually with some space between them. The gay and lesbian couples, however, were passionately trying to French-kiss their partner in a close proximity relative to the heterosexual couple. Trying. Heterosexual couple were already making out, whereas the gay and lesbian couples were trying to kiss.

If anything, the poster raises key issues such as recognition, respect, and equality for gay and lesbians. The depiction of them not being able to kiss publicly, unlike heterosexual couples, signifies too little progress made in the fight for equality. The poster – picture and text – brings into surface yet another issue: HIV/AIDS. I think the point the creator was effectively trying to argue – which I totally agree with – is that homosexuality does not necessarily lead to AIDS, and certainly not death. The artist argues for a need for social change; he is criticizing the status quo in that our society is taken by greed and indifference. People live in a bubble not caring about the world outside, and discriminating against those who are different. The message is three fold, I think: acknowledging HIV/AIDS, inequality, and criticizing the society.

I think this art work should be displayed in public. People of all ages, religious/political backgrounds should learn that we are all equal regardless of age, race, and sex. I think art should be funded by the government. Art keeps a cultural record of society at the time art work was created. It raises questions and starts discussions about interesting and controversial issues, such as equality and discrimination. This ad is still relevant; so as issues of sexual orientation and equality are still controversial.

Different upbringing and cultural feedbacks fed in my response to this art work. Firstly, I was brought up in a religiously traditionalist, arguably conservative society. My parents, however, were, and still are, moderates. They accept gay and lesbians as functional, productive members of society. They see them as similar as other human beings – though they do not recognize their right to marry and have a family, I do not think. But, society is on the contrary: homosexuality is a disease that has to be cured. Secondly, moving out of my society opened my eyes to different realities; homosexuality was no longer a disease, nor it was a choice.

I came to realize that discrimination and prejudice against others were unjustified regardless of what is written in the Holy Book. I think I see this art work as enlightening and rather comforting that it is displayed to the public to bring about discussion about LGBTQ. If it was displayed in a conservative society, then it would definitely not be welcomed, certainly not in my old traditionalist society…