NOTE: This post was written a few days ago.
It seems one of our fellow Iraqi bloggers is generating something of a buzz, but in the Arab media for a change. Artist and blogger Sundus Abdilhadi made headlines in Elaph, and later tonight in al-Arabiya.net's website for her controversial painting "Inana in Damascus", which depicts a naked Iraqi woman standing in a crowd outside a nightclub called 'Al-Hirmann' (loose translation, Deprivation), the crowd includes a man in a Gulf attire who appears to be petting her, and also an American soldier who watches nonchalantly.
Now that I've finished reporting, let me have my own analysis of the painting, I'm a total layman in regards to paintings (especially ones in the style of Miss Abdulhadi) and I can never get why so-and-so is supposed to be great, but I'm the sort of the guy who likes to think of every work of art as having more than mere face value, details that reveal themselves with each repeated look or listen.
The painting is based on an Orientalist painting called the "Slave Market" by Jean-Pierre Gerome:
I recounted somewhere in this blog that I used to try to incorporate some Pan-Arab resistance motifs in my imaginary heavy metal shows, I didn't really believe in any of it, and the only reason I did so is because I wanted to be heard and get famous, in another word, I was being exploitative. This painting can be held with a similar accusation, all it did was cast the crowd with the appropriate roles, an American soldier being forced in for good measure, and there you go.
However, a more in-depth view reveals several details that in my opinion clears Abdulhadi of that crime, while Gerome's painting seems to be concerned more with painting just for the sake of painting, in regards to the subject matter, it is completely neutral, the painting does not say anything other than brillianly recreating the incident it is portraying, life is frozen appropreitely in majesty and as always the painting celebrates the female body and lighting is made to reflect that.
Abdulhadi's version is quite different, its main objective is not painting per se, but commentary, heavy depression prevades the entire picture and girl's body is unimportant, what's important is the hypocrisy implied in the addition of the far-away minarets, or the supposed dignity and valor in the attire of the Gulf man, or the leering guy in the background, however the US soldier does sound forced, and America's invovlement should have been incorporated some other way, the impact is made more significant when one looks at the Gerome and realizes the concept of men gathering around a naked woman illustrates the fact that women are still treated more or less as sex-objects 150 years later. Moreover, Abdulhadi's style renders the entire populace in a primitive, inhuman allure that strips humanity away and shows them as the vassals for ideas they're supposed to be.
Having said that, this explicit commentary still hurt the painting as a work of art, I would gladly hang the first in my living room and look at it every other Friday, but this one is just too political and too obvious to be touching in any meaningful way. It is indeed hard to be creative and find a genuinely original portrayal of the devastation of war and the hypocrisy of men, and because there is no high-resolution version of the painting anywhere online, I couldn't really examine it as closely as I wanted. But the added ideas and detail does suggest that Miss Abdulhadi has the potential to surprise us with something in her future attempts. (and for the record, this is my least favorite of her paintings, you should check out her blog for that, the title of her blog looks great)