Living Alone In Baghdad

Hanaa Malallah: “I experienced  a three international conflict, so of course that affects me personally and in the end affect my artwork. I have to take all this experience, personal experience, physical experience and turn it to artistic aspects. I start to train as a figurative artist. In my mind it was very clear, once I finish my training as completely figurative artist, I will turn sharply to be abstraction artist. My artwork start to respond to this destruction in the country and country in wars for a long time. In 1991 it is like 10 years war with Iran, so it is this is my when I was very youth in that time. So, I started to respond to this really and start to develop ruins technique which is burning and destroying material and this appeared slightly in my first exhibition. In that time I completely isolated you know, there are sanctions so we couldn't travel. So I couldn't travel over 35 years. So, this is my response to a specific area which is just to Iraq. I'm artist more than just person reflect to the, to the war or something, so this has really led me to some philosophical thing in my art which is led me to explore a threshold between existing and obliteration. And then start bigger question about the belief of ephemeral nature of existence. My physical experience actually turned to something artistic and philosophical. It was very hard. From 1991, so this is not a new experience in 2003, it is exactly the same what happened in 1991 because 1991, it is the big bomb of Baghdad and I was inside Baghdad when that happened. Then we did experience sanction until 2003, which is like 13 years. So, it is, it was a very hard life. It is hardship. And then after that happened, the invasion, which is there's no big difference, it is just harder. But we managed to do artwork, that's why I did do artwork from destruction material, from destruction object, from found object to deal with the very poor material to create artwork, use some destruction to create artwork. I have to deal, it is like to survive as artist. I was a teacher, associate professor in university and in that time in between 2006 and 2007 it is the peak of violence in Iraq, in Baghdad specifically because I lived in Baghdad. And in this peak, they start to kill many professor and doctors and many professional and we don't know how and who. And then I it is really started to affect me because in that time I lived alone in Baghdad without any family and I'm a women and artist and I don't know what will happen to me. And suddenly I get through online this invitation to Paris, to my fellowship and I just I said in that time in my, in my opinion, I will go and return back after six or one year and return, but I I left everything as it is in my home, in my studio there. Then when I left it, it become worse and they say if you can manage to stay there, stay there it is very worse in Baghdad and I stayed there in Paris and then from Paris I came to London. In Iraq, I physically taste war and conflict. When I moved here, it is a peaceful city, but still there is through the media there is some you can, you can see this and just your memory take you back to this experience so you know what it looks like to be with the war and what looks like to be without electricity or what it looks like without water, like now. So, I had, I had this experience. So when I saw it now through the media as will affect me but in a different sense. There is some young artists, they are lovely, but they need really big help and to help them honestly with the will because they reflect the real thing, the, the real situation there they are not outside of so reflect to the conflict through the media. They, they, they, they are like, like me before they physically taste this violence, which is now really crucial, so I am trying to, to help this because they have a lot to speak about it and they are still young and they have experience and in the end they there is no hope they will die because there is actually a completely isolated.”

Hanaa Malallah lived through multiple conflicts in Iraq - as a young artist, she grew up during the Iran-Iraq War and presented her first solo show in the wake of the First Gulf War.

She says her work has been shaped by her experiences of conflict throughout her life – and that after 9/11 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, continuing to work as an artist became “harder”.

Her work My Country Map was created in 2008 after she fled Iraq and reflects the “chaos of war” she experienced in her country.  

Even though she is now based in London, she says her personal experience of conflict continues to resonate in her work.

“In Iraq, I physically taste war and conflict. When I moved here, it is peaceful city but still there is, through the media, you can see this and just your memory takes you back to this experience. So you know what it looks like to be with the war and what it looks like to be without electricity, what it looks like to be without the water. I had this experience. So when I saw it now, through the media, it will affect me but in a different sense,” she said.

Hanaa continues to support artists who remain in Iraq and reflects that those who remain “taste this violence” as she did as a young artist.

Hanaa Malallah’s work My Country Map was on display as part of the Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11 exhibition at IWM London from 26 October 2017 to 28 May 2018.

Image: Hanaa Malallah My Country Map 2008 - Layers of burnt canvas and oil on canvas © Courtesy The Park Gallery & Roger Fawcett-Tang

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