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in baghdad, painting with ashes
‘creativity is possible whatever your circumstances’

Munaf al-Saedi
Inspired by his deprived neighbourhood, a Baghdad artist uses natural colours, paints without a brush and makes the city streets his gallery. His work has drawn curious onlookers from around the capital.
28.02.2013  |  Baghdad
A recent art exhibition on a Baghdad street drew curious onlookers.
A recent art exhibition on a Baghdad street drew curious onlookers.

A funny thing happened on the shores of the Tigris River in central Baghdad recently. An Iraqi painter set up an outdoor exhibition of his work along a wall, drawing many curious looks from locals walking by. The artist, local man Wisam al-Furati, spent a lot of time explaining his artworks to them.

There were 32 paintings altogether and the name of this unusual outdoor display was “Deprivation”. Al-Furati had painted the works using only vegetable dyes and found articles and he worked without a brush. He is not a graduate of any fine arts school – instead he says he started painting as a reaction to his environment: he lives in Sadr City, a mostly Shiite Muslim area neglected during by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, where many people remain in Iraq’s lower socio-economic bracket.

Al-Furati held his first exhibition in 2004 and he hopes that his work, done at very little cost, will inspire other Iraqis to be more creative – even if they are living within limited means.

NIQASH: What do you think makes your work different?

Wisam al-Furati: I call it “realist art” because my tools are simple and they come from out of nature.

NIQASH: And why are you working with materials like that?

Al-Furati: Because of the environment in Sadr City where there is a lot of deprivation and poverty. I wanted to do something different and I worked a long time, trying to paint without brushes and without the colours that other artists have access to.

NIQASH: Can you tell us a little bit about how you work?

Al-Furati: First I do a sketch in pencil on a piece of wood. Then the colours I use are all natural. They are vegetable extracts – things like red turnips – coal and tobacco or dried flowers. I add water to shade the colours and I use a piece of cloth instead of a brush. It takes me about five days to finish one painting.

NIQASH: And you also held your exhibition on the street.

Al-Furati: It doesn’t cost any money to do that and I think it also reflects the spirit of my work appropriately as well as my themes, poverty and deprivation.

NIQASH: What kind of reactions did you get from onlookers?

Al-Furati: A lot of people spent a long time looking at the paintings on the street. And I believe that the way in which I work has made many other artists question the way they work themselves. Some of them asked me to collaborate on exhibitions with them and some have also asked me to join them in an auction.

NIQASH: What’s next for your artwork?

Al-Furati: My new exhibition will focus on women’s rights. I’d also like to hold an exhibition in Erbil and I’d also like to do something to commemorate the fact that Baghdad has been designated the “Arab Capital of Culture” for 2103.

There are a lot of other things I’d like to do too. For instance, I’d love to do some workshops for other artists because I’d really like to send a message to frustrated Iraqi youth who are suffering in poverty that creativity and innovation is possible, no matter what your circumstances.

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