Every day Abdul-Qader al-Naeb, roams the streets of Baghdad collecting pieces of scrap metal and other rubbish. But he is no ordinary garbage collector. Al-Naeb is an artist and he uses the things he collects to make sculptures, which he then sells in a studio he runs.
Although this kind of thing may be more common in Europe and other Western countries, and even considered a little kitsch in some circles, recycled art is still an exciting novelty in Iraq.
“It also contributes to conservation efforts,” al-Naeb says. “It’s basically about recycling rubbish and turning it into something beautiful. There is so much raw material for this kind of thing in Iraq, the idea could easily spread.”
Al-Naeb collects scrap from the streets as well as from mechanics’ garages where he picks up parts of damaged cars and motorcycles. The scrap he collects then gives him the ideas about what he wants to make, and how to turn them into sculptures.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this, al-Naeb says. It’s down to the artist and their imagination and ability. “I have looked a lot at the international examples to see how they do their work but I am always trying to create something new,” he states.
Al-Naeb gets a lot of help from his friends and they support him with physical aid and money. One of his helpers, Mohammed al-Amiri, helps al-Naeb with transportation and is very proud of his artistic friend. “He’s so diligent and patient with the work,” al-Amiri says. “We believe his is the first scrap-art studio in Iraq.”
Al-Naeb says his main aim is to educate locals about the conservation of the environment. He does sell his works – especially when they are exhibited – but he says he doesn’t put a price on the work, he lets the buyers decide how much they want to pay.
That must also be another bonus of the scrap art – it’s providing a young man like al-Naeb with an unusually creative job opportunity in the private sector, in a country where the goal is often to be employed by the government.
Al-Naeb is not the only Iraqi making these kinds of sculptures. Although the work is not often exhibited, it is possible to find it through various dedicated Facebook pages.
For example, Omar Abdallah from Basra. The young man has a degree in Fine Arts and also makes art out of rubbish. He started making sculptures out of scrap when he was still studying and his teachers encouraged him to keep going.
“I have tried to produce works that are similar to those I have seen produced internationally,” Abdallah told NIQASH. “And I continued to emulate them until I gained enough skills to make my sculptures look really professional.”
“People are often surprised when they see these artworks. They wonder how we made them,” Abdallah says. “But the best thing about them is that they give viewers the opportunity to forget about the deteriorating situation in this country.”