IRAQI ARTISTS IN EXILE

MOHAMMED AL-SHAMMAREY

My videos interact, metaphorically, with my homeland and with my life. So, with The Game my intention was to play a game with kings, queens, rooks, pawns, bishops, and knights, each piece lined up and prepared for a battle. I didn’t play with the black or the white pieces; neither the pawns nor the bishops moved. Even the squares of the board do not appear until the end of the video as a result of a fire that devoured all the pieces. What I saw in the chess pieces was the way they lined up, and that’s what I maintained. It is not a chess game but a game of war and destruction and fire. All this was taking place in my country.

An American journalist asked my friend and art critic Suhail Sami Nader in the early days of the occupation, “Why do you fear the Americans?” Sami answered, “Because we have seen them do shocking things so far, and we are worried that they will lead us and lead themselves to a conclusion similar to Melville’s Moby Dick: the ship and everyone on board are lost, the whale is killed, and Captain Ahab is dead after a grudge-fueled chase.”

My second film is about the civil war in Iraq, which I found to be visually equivalent to the mechanics of rotational motion and to the random frictions generated by the rotation itself. There was a little game we played as kids where a spinning top hits another one trying to kill its motion. This collision will cause one of them to stop, but the first (victorious) one will make only a few more spins before it stumbles like a drunk and falls motionlessly. With this metaphor in my video Civil Wars, I express what happened in my country. The politicians, the externally controlled groups, the militias, and the occupation authorities created an enormous flow of hatred and terrible crimes between the various sects, which coexisted peacefully for ages. They were left fighting and spinning aimlessly around themselves. The worst part about this war in my homeland is that it uses religion as an excuse for the most vicious acts of killing, corpse mutilations, and torture. This violence is expressed in the soundtrack of the film, which is a popular Iraqi religious chant played backwards, resulting in meaningless gibberish that governs the rotation of the spinning tops and fills the gaps between their successive collapse. At the end of the film, I play the real words of the chant as an obituary closing.

– Mohammed Al-Shammarey

MOHAMMED AL-SHAMMAREY, “Unidentified Man”, 2008; “Unidentified Woman”, 2008, mixed media on canvas, each 8.8’ x 4.25’


MOHAMMED AL-SHAMMAREY
born in Baghdad, Iraq, 1962.
Mohammed Al-Shammarey is a self-taught artist. He is a member of the UNESCO International Association for Plastic Arts (AIAP), the Iraqi Artist Association, and the Iraqi Society of Plastic Artists. His work has been exhibited in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe, including the 9th Cairo International Biennale, 2003–2004; the Frankfurt International Book Fair, 2004 and 2005; and Imagining the Book International Biennial, Alexandria Library, Egypt, 2005. In 2004, he received an award from the Festival of Mediterranean People, Bisceglie, Italy, and in 2003, the prize of Arab Pioneers from the Arab Pioneers Festival under the patronage of the Arab League. His body of work comprises video art, photography, book art, painting, and sculpture. He currently lives in the United States.

The Game, 2007
video: 3:30 minutes

Civil Wars, 2007
video: 5 minutes