First of all, she had to overcome her fear of insects. But now Saja al-Baghdadi, a student at Baghdad’s College of Agriculture, is becoming known for her artworks: She draws on living and dead bugs, as well as other miniature things like grains and small textiles.
This odd hobby actually began when al-Baghdadi was still at secondary school. She painted on a dead beetle. Since starting her tertiary education she has specialized in entomology and has started trying to paint on live insects.
Al-Baghdadi says she is passionate about combining science and art and that is why, although it’s difficult working with living creatures who bite and sting, she has persevered.
“We tend to think of insects in a negative way,” al-Baghdadi explains. “But if you study them you discover that they benefit us more than they harm us. They form small, collaborative societies that live in harmony.”
Since she started her work with the insects al-Baghdadi has been able to hold several exhibitions – even though some of them have panicked viewers who are frightened of bugs. Social media has been very helpful to her and has increased her audience.
One of al-Baghdadi’s biggest challenges is breeding the insects and properly housing the ones she collects. Her hope is to eventually build a small enclosed garden where the insects could live and where people could see them.
“She draws while blood is being shed in Iraq and is an example of a daring artist,” says one local art critic, Bashir Hajim. “Turning insects from ugly or frightening creatures into beautiful artworks is a wonderful thing to do.”
Al-Baghdadi hopes that people will understand what she is trying to do. “I do want to send a message of peace and love and cooperation, through the colours,” the enthusiastic young artist says. “I also want to draw attention to the contaminated environment of Iraq.”