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.