Hadiqat Al Umma, a powerful display of Iraq nostalgia

The solo exhibition titled Once Upon a Time: Hadiqat Al Umma at Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah offers a truly immersive experience.

Immersive experience. A section of the multimedia projection of Sadik Kwaish Alfraji’s Once Upon A Time: Hadiqat Al Umma. (Courtesy of Maraya Art Centre)

2017/03/26 Issue: 99 Page: 23

The Arab Weekly
N.P. Krishna Kumar

Sharjah - In his latest work, Iraqi artist Sadik Kwaish Alfraji presents a panoramic multimedia video installation, reviving his child­hood experiences at Hadiqat Al Umma — the Nation’s Park — in Baghdad.

The solo exhibition titled Once Upon a Time: Hadiqat Al Umma at Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah offers a truly immersive experience. Alf­raji reimagines the park-goers and brings them to life through anima­tion of more than 14,000 black-and-white drawings displayed through nine projectors.

A black, sculpted enigmatic hu­man figure in the foreground of the screens is representative of Alfraji, as well as each viewer — a shadowy protagonist navigating the precari­ous nature of modern existence and seen in many of the artist’s works.

Built in the 1930s, Hadiqat Al Umma was surrounded by music and photography shops, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, cafés and markets, making it the heart of the community’s social activities. It was neglected over time. The works, stemming from the artist’s vivid memory and recollections of the park’s plants and fountains, evoke the nostalgia and sentimen­tality of his childhood.

“This work is part of the Once Upon a Time series, which began with the work titled The House That My Father Built that was trig­gered by my visit to Iraq after the passing away of my father,” Alfraji said. “It is a continuation, where I see myself as a storyteller and there are many stories that I feel need to be told and shared. Since this is a continuous work, my am­bition is also continuous.”

Born in Baghdad in 1960, Alf­raji lives and works in Amersfoort in the Netherlands. He received a bachelor’s degree in painting and plastic art from the Academy of Fine Arts, Baghdad, in 1987 and a high diploma in graphic design from CHK Constantijn Huygens, Netherlands, in 2000.

The artist provides viewers a clue to approaching and unlocking the many stories unfolding across the nine screens. “All that is in­cluded in the work is based upon the memories I have from within that park, which was actually built with the presence of all these fig­ures and faces from Faiq Hassan’s mural and Jawaz Saleem’s monu­ment and the Motherhood sculp­ture by Fahd al-Rahhal, in addi­tion to (park) visitors and vendors, etc…”

“It’s not possible for the visitor to see all the nine screens, the per­son needs to look multiple times to catch the details around him, simi­lar to what life is like, and being in the park, the visitor can’t see eve­rything around him all at once,” Alfraji said.

The works were commissioned by Sharjah-based Barjeel Art Foun­dation and the exhibition was cu­rated by Laura Metzler and Alex­andra MacGilp with the support of Ayyam Gallery.

Maraya Art Centre Director Gi­useppe Moscatello said: “In this exhibition, Alfraji brilliantly argues that even though exile signifies an actual physical absence from a par­ticular ‘home’. It also embodies an intense emotional and psychologi­cal state of presentness.”

“Once Upon a Time: Hadiqat Al Umma renegotiates time in a visual representation of the exilic consciousness of Iraqi art. The fas­cinating reconstruction of memory in Alfraji’s work proves once more that the memories we carry with us since childhood always find a way to come back to our present; a myriad of emotions, shadows, and silhouettes from yesterday that continue to play a crucial role in understanding our future,” Mosca­tello said.

He noted that Alfraji’s interdis­ciplinary work has always carried narratives of loss, fragmentation and exile.

“Born and raised in Baghdad, he left Iraq to the Netherlands, where he has been living and working for more than 20 years, and yet the imagery of Baghdad and his early memories of the place still live on in the works he creates, often in black and white, evoking sadness and a sense of perpetual loss,” said Moscatello.

“This exhibition is an extension of our appreciation of the contri­butions made by generations of great Iraqi artists and the creative community both in Iraq and the diaspora.”

Alfraji contends: “Nostalgia is a universal condition. It is part of the human being’s structure and it af­fects the human’s present.”

Once Upon a Time: Hadiqat Al Umma is on display at the Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah through May 6th.

N.P. Krishna Kumar is an Arab Weekly correspondent in Dubai.

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