Film review: ‘Mirrors of Diaspora’ tells the story of artists exiled from a land lost to war

A still from ‘Mirrors of Diaspora.’ (Photo courtesy: IMDB.com)
Updated 09 October 2018
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Film review: ‘Mirrors of Diaspora’ tells the story of artists exiled from a land lost to war

MALMO: Iraq’s tragic recent history has created a diaspora that’s among the largest globally, and the fate of seven Iraqi artists who left their homeland in the 1970s is the subject of veteran documentary maker Kasim Abid’s latest film, “Mirrors of Diaspora.”

Melancholy and reflective, the movie revisits the same painters and sculptors featured in Abid’s 1991 documentary “Amid the Alien Corn.” Having gone to Italy to master their craft, the artists became exiles after Saddam Hussein tightened his murderous grip on power and attacked Iran.

They still hoped to return permanently when Abid first encountered them, but a further quarter-century of devastation has ended the artists’ dreams of making Iraq their home again, and this sense of loss is a recurring theme in a film that’s overlong but always engaging.

Viewers meet Basra-born Afifa Aleiby, who eventually settled in the Netherlands, where her paintings found a rapt audience. Other artists featured include Florence-based Fuad Aziz, a sculptor and much-loved children’s author and illustrator; painter Jaber Alwan; and Baldin Ahmed, who still grieves for a brother murdered by Saddam’s forces in 1969.

Abid, too, is an Iraqi in exile, having lived in London since 1982, and so holds similar feelings. The somber score adds to the film’s resigned tone as the artists contemplate their mortality and dwell on their homeland’s ruin.

Interspersing new footage with archival scenes from “Alien Corn,” Abid shows how some of the artists went from painting caricatures for tourists to creating artwork of staggering beauty.

All seven remain professional artists, exhibiting in galleries worldwide, but these accomplishments cannot mute their longing for Iraq –- or at least the Iraq of their youth, with the country’s flawed democracy failing to convince them to return to a land wrecked by war and destruction.

The film examines memory and the notion of home, taking the viewer through the artists’ decades of exile. Their warmth shines through as Abid skilfully shows their stories, his careful camerawork and understated style creating a powerful testament to the creativity and compassion of a remarkable generation of Iraqi artists.


First charity art auction in Saudi Arabia hits SR4.8 million in sales

Updated 34 min 49 sec ago
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First charity art auction in Saudi Arabia hits SR4.8 million in sales

  • The event, which featured 43 works by Saudi and Arab artists, was held at historic Nassif House in Al-Balad, Jeddah
  • Tawaf around the Kaaba 2,” a painting by Saudi artist Abdullah Al-Shalty, fetched SR 650,000, the highest price paid for any single work in the auction

JEDDAH: Art for Al Balad, the first charity auction of contemporary art in the Kingdom, achieved sales of SR 4.8 million ($1.3 million) on Wednesday.

The event, which featured 43 works by Saudi and Arab artists, all of which sold, was held at historic Nassif House in Al-Balad, Jeddah, on Wednesday. It was organized by the Ministry of Culture in cooperation with auction house Christie’s.

“It was much above our expectations; we are very happy,” said Michael Jeha, chairman of Christie's Middle East.

About 200 Saudi art collectors joined artists and other members of the Saudi and international cultural communities at the event. Bidding was highly competitive, with “Tawaf around the Kaaba 2,” a painting by Saudi artist Abdullah Al-Shalty, fetching SR 650,000, the highest price paid for any single work in the auction.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Nassif House was built in 1872. Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, was received at this house upon his entry to the city in 1925.

• The Saudi government is keen to restore and preserve buildings with historic and cultural significance, and carries out regular renovation work.

• Al-Balad, or Jeddah historic district, is one of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kingdom. It contains about 600 buildings that date back to the 19th century.

 

“Where to” by Prince Badr bin Abdulmohsen was the second-most expensive work, selling for SR 500,000, while “Witness in the Desert” by Abdullah Al-Sahikh attracted a winning bid of SR 380,000.

“It was extremely pleasing, very encouraging,” said Jeha. “The energy in the room was fantastic. The enthusiasm was very strong. I think for the very first auction, we can all be extremely pleased.”

Jeha described the growth of the art scene and culture in general in Saudi Arabia as very impressive, and said that the Ministry of Culture has developed a strong platform and program for the coming years, which will help to establish art and culture in the hearts and minds of people in the Kingdom.

The profits from the auction will help to establish a new heritage museum in Jeddah’s historic district and support The Help Center, a non-profit organization that provides customized support to children in the city with special educational needs.

The auction received donations and funding from galleries, cultural foundations, private collectors, and artists across the Arab World, the assistance of which was acknowledged by the Ministry of Culture.

“This would not be possible without the generous support of both the donors and the talented artists,” said Hamed bin Mohammed Fayez, deputy minister of culture, in his opening speech.

The ministry aspires to create and develop a cultural environment in which artists and other creatives can access a platform that celebrates a shared identity and builds understanding between people.

Speaking of the Ministry’s three main objectives in its cultural vision for 2019, Fayez said that it aims to support the nation’s cultural transformation by promoting culture as a way of life, enable the sector to contribute to the economy, and encourage international cultural exchanges.

Before the auction, the works on sale were on display to the public in an exhibition on June 23 and 24.