Art professor receives grant to continue search for modern Iraqi art lost after bombings

Thursday, March 2, 2006

The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARI) has awarded a grant to Dr. Nada Shabout, University of North Texas assistant professor of art history, to help fund her continuing efforts to save modern art damaged and lost in war-torn Iraq.

Shabout, who is considered to be one of the world's leading authorities on contemporary Iraqi art, will use the $10,000 grant to resume her research in Jordan this summer. For the last two and a half years, she has been collecting data and documents that will help her build an archive of the artwork missing and stolen from the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art, which was damaged during bombings in March 2003.

"I am trying to reconstruct an archive out of nothing," Shabout says. "It is a very unorthodox way of researching this matter, but obviously TAARII believes this is needed."

This will be Shabout's second trip to the area on her quest to recover modern Iraqi art. A former Iraq i resident and a graduate of a Baghdad high school, she returned to Baghdad in June 2003 to begin her project.

She points out the artwork cannot be proven to be missing from the museum without proper documentation. The longer the work is gone, the more likely it will disappear forever into private collections or suffer damage beyond repair, she says.

The $10,000 from TAARII is the first funding that Shabout has received for her project. She previously volunteered her time and effort to save the art, studying old catalogs and video CDs and relying on artists' memories to compile an archive. About 1,300 of the 8,000 pieces have been retrieved, she says.

"Every nation needs its art and if they are reconstructing the country, Iraqis need the recent collective memory, which makes visual art an important aspect," she says. "But also it's important for the history of art in general. In the age of globalization, when Third World countries are finally making an appearance, everyone's expression is important."

In an effort to bring more exposure to modern Iraqi art, Shabout organized an exhibit, Dafatir, featuring book art by modern Iraqi artists and visits from artists Nazar Yahya, Hanaa Malallah and Mohammed al-Shammarey.

The exhibit opened in October at the UNT Art Gallery. Dafatir is scheduled to appear April 6 to June 10 at the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts at the University of Texas at El Paso. It has also appeared or will appear at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Va.; and the Center for Book Arts in New York City.

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