Exhibition marks 10 years since Iraq war, toppling of Saddam

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It's nearly ten years since U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq, toppling former president, Saddam Hussein.

But Iraqis who lived through the nightly aerial bombardments of their cities say the consequences are still with them every day.

Artist Hanaa Malallah is from Baghdad. She says her work has been profoundly influenced by her country's recent history - from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s to the 2003 invasion and beyond.

Her piece “My Night,” made of burnt canvas and pieces of debris, is a depiction of one night in January 1991, when a U.S.-led coalition began round-the-clock air strikes on Iraq, following Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.

Malallah says the events of that night are seared into her memory and marked the first step towards the 2003 invasion.

“I consider the night of 16-17 (January) 1991 to be the turning point in Iraq's history and I consider the occupation of Iraq to have started in that year. That night, which I will never ever forget, influences every piece of work I do, even still today. Any artist or any human being who lived through that night.....I don't know but it has influenced my work to a great extent and if I wanted to describe it, it was the night that Baghdad fell,” she said, while showcasing her work at a London exhibition.

In Baghdad, Malallah was a university lecturer. But after some of her colleagues were killed, she left her country in 2006, losing her job, her home and all of her artwork.

As well as her personal loss, she said the 2003 war had dealt a serious blow to Iraqi culture in general, as museums were looted, important journals ceased publishing and schools teaching music and ballet closed down.

The chaos that followed the invasion made any hope of a quick recovery impossible, she said.
“In 2003, the American bombing was exactly like the bombing in 1991. Exactly the same bombing, just quicker. The bridges collapsed, the electricity was cut off and still is, the water was cut off, the infrastructure and universities were destroyed - just as happened in 1991. But in 1991, the government was still in place so it was possible to repair the destruction at that time. But after the occupation, there was no government to fix the destruction that was there. On the contrary, it just increased,” Malallah said.

The exhibition 'Ten Years After', hosted by the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, looks back on the 2003 war and sets out to portray its consequences.

Researcher Dr. Mo Throp, whose work is also on show, said her main memory of the conflict was the controversy surrounding the decision by the British government to take military action.

“The thing I think was the most (memorable)....the public, the British public, (former British Prime Minister Tony) Blair tried to win us over was this 'we have to deal with the weapons of mass destruction. The peace of the whole of the world is at stake, we have to go in and find those weapons of mass destruction'. I remember increasingly watching news about this 'we are not finding them, we are not finding them', you know, there was, it just did prove that mistakes had been made,” said Throp.

Throp's work comprises five video monitors, showing images of Saddam Hussein's bombed palace, as well as footage of lorries driving along an endless desert highway. The video is overlaid with witness accounts from Iraqis and from British soldiers who fought in Iraq.

Throp says the looped videos represent the ongoing trauma of the Iraq war.

“Here is a tragedy, here is a traumatic account, trauma which is impossible to overcome, so the daily living of this, of not moving towards a resolution or something being bettered. I think this show is giving over that account of the continuing situation which has made no improvement, there is no resolution, it didn't have a beneficial effect,” she said.

The 2003 war prompted many British artists to produce artistic responses to the conflict.

In one piece by Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps, the wartime U.S. Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, features prominently in the middle of a scene of death and destruction.

The artistic duo, who work under the name “kennardphillipps,” say their piece shows Donald Rumsfeld “blind to the deaths that surround him” - in a war that remains as controversial today as it was a decade ago.