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. 😀