By: Maymanah Farhat
Dar Al-Hayat November 2005
Iraqi artist Mohammed Al
Sadoun has been engaging viewers with multifaceted explorations of
Middle Eastern history and sociopolitical issues for thirty years. His
work has been exhibited in international art exhibitions since 1975.
Al Sadoun was born in 1958 and raised in southern Iraq. He received
by Mohammed Al Sadoun - Courtesy of Station Museum.
a BFA from the University of Baghdad in 1979 and an MA in art education
from the University of Hartford in Connecticut in 1986. Soon after, he
began teaching art at Iraqi universities. In 1989 he was invited to
Japan where he exhibited consistently for three years. In 1999 he
received his PhD from Ohio State University in art education and has
been teaching in the United States ever since. His contributions to the
progression of the Contemporary Arab art movement include conceptual
pieces, paintings, publications, comprehensive research and countless
lectures on the evolution of the movement.
Al Sadoun's artwork maintains his dedication to Contemporary Arab art
through the constant challenging of the movement's artistic boundaries.
In such works as Burnt Door #1, 2005, What I Remember, 1991, and
Untitled #1, 2005, Al Sadoun uses unconventional materials and concepts
in provocative works that call attention to the complexity of the modern
The concept for Burnt Door #1 evolved in the summer of 1986 during the
Iraqi war with Iran. While working in his Baghdad studio one day, Al
Sadoun heard a strong explosion that shook his downtown neighborhood.
Upon investigation, he came across burning houses that had been hit by
an Iranian missile. The impact of the missile left beautiful Baghdadi
windows and doors burning, leaving Al Sadoun with anger that haunted
him, and forcing him to return to the site later that evening. When he
returned he found a burnt door. When asked about the impact of the burnt
door, Al Sadoun recounts, "I was very interested in the color, texture
and accidental fragmentations of the burning in that door, so I took the
door to my studio and started working on it. I entered that door in the
first Baghdad International Festival of Art in 1986 even though I was
afraid that the selection committee might reject it because that kind of
art was unknown and unpopular during that period." In 1989, the door was
selected for the Iraqi Contemporary exhibition held at the Arab
Institute in Paris.
Al Sadoun continues to
create such pieces using found doors, fuel,
Courtesy of Station Museum.
latex, wall paint, acrylic, glues and fire. He involves viewers in the
artistic process by burning doors in front of a live audience. The
result is an intensely personal experience that captures the horror and
devastation of war. Through the process, Al Sadoun and his viewers
become perpetrators of the brutal destruction of the aged door. The door
is seized, violently assaulted, and then left in a state of disrepair,
undecipherable from its original condition. Al Sadoun's doors stand as
testimonies of the cataclysmic nature of war and the countless victims
that subsequently result.
What I Remember was created during the first Gulf War while Al Sadoun
was working in Japan. After viewing the bombing of Iraq by American
forces on television, he was overcome by a profound sense of sadness and
nostalgia for his native country. The painting resulted from the
intensity of his emotional state during this time. While working in an
abandoned building that functioned as his studio, he discovered a
19"x27" piece of metal, the quality of which he thought was ideal for a
scene depicting the bombing of Iraq.
The composition of What I Remember is simple; a sole plane devoid of a
target is shown releasing bombs. There is no indication of Iraq being
the subject matter of the piece. Al Sadoun leaves it to the viewer to
make his/her own conclusions as to the time and place of his depiction.
Given the complicated history of political affairs over the past
century, Al Sadoun's scene is pertinent to numerous conflicts. What is
made clear is a distinct sense of solitude and ruin. The landscape of
the scene lies in abstraction, unrecognizable from the weathered metal.
The worn texture of the metal is integrated into the composition through
the onerous use of a dark color palette. His recollection of Iraqi
houses, whose walls are rich in texture and graphite, inspired such a
Courtesy of Station Museum.
Al Sadoun's scene encapsulates a dreamlike reality; the viewer is drawn
into the difficult process of remembrance. There is an inescapable sense
of desolation conveyed in What I Remember, in which Al Sadoun captures
the abandonment of a people left to face the atrocities of war. The
scene is chilling yet is an imperative form of commentary on the current
state of global affairs, intended to convey the tragedy of violent
Untitled #1 is a concept that Al Sadoun has been exploring in recent
years. A stack of books is tied with rope to a chair then painted with
acrylic paint. In some instances, as in Untitled #1, Arabic writing
appears scattered along the entire piece. Notions of education are
insinuated through the use of a chair and books while the application of
rope and paint join the found objects as one uniform body, constricted
to the scrutiny of the viewer's glance.
The body of the piece is
unwieldy; the curious tying of books intended to instill a sense of
discomfort in the viewer so as to communicate the severity of his
Though the physical forms of such pieces are uncomplicated, Al
Courtesy of Station Museum.
Sadoun makes a profound statement about censorship in the Middle East
and the Islamic world. Although literacy has been an integral aspect of
Arab and Islamic societies for centuries, Al Sadoun taps into one of the
most imperative struggles of modern times. Freedom of speech and
artistic liberty are questioned as evidence of his own experience as an
artist. Pertaining to the subject of censorship he writes, "Iraq and
other Arab and Islamic countries are suffering from awful censorship.
These countries forbid expression and deny human rights in particular to
women and minorities. The tied books express the suffering of those who
have lost their rights because of religion and politics." Though Al
Sadoun's work is specific to the Arab and Islamic worlds, the
universality of the struggle for civil liberties speaks to all; as he
affirms, "Viewers as responsible citizens should fight for their freedom
against oppressive and undemocratic forces in our societies."
Al Sadoun's conceptual pieces and paintings are bold and commanding,
causing viewers to be drawn into the emotionally charged subject matters
that dominate his work. His work often includes found objects in an
attempt to add a sense of veracity and symbolism to his creative
expression. His use of found objects stems from an academic and artistic
conviction that upholds art in the postmodern era as a means through
which to explore concepts involving reality therefore bringing art
closer to life and the masses.
Maymanah Farhat is a freelance Writer and Researcher of Visual Arts
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