Professor gets grant to search for missing Iraqi art

Thursday, March 2, 2006

DENTON (UNT), Texas The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII) 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.

Considered one of the world's leading authorities on contemporary Iraqi art, Shabout will use the $10,000 grant to resume her research in Jordan this summer. For the last two and a half years, Shabout 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 said. "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 Iraqi resident and a graduate of a Baghdad high school, Shabout returned to Baghdad in June 2003 to begin her project. The artwork cannot be proven 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 said.

Previously without funding for the project, Shabout 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 said.

"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 said. "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 before traveling to Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. 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; Oct. 18 to Dec. 11 at Daura Gallery of Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Va.; and Oct. 18 to Dec. 11, 2007, at the Center for Book Arts in New York City.

Shabout can be reached at (940) 565-4027 or

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108