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

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.


Emirati photographer finds that lockdowns have a silver lining

The photographer enjoys capturing industrial facilities and ghostly landscapes. (Tashkeel)
Updated 29 May 2020

Emirati photographer finds that lockdowns have a silver lining

DUBAI: The COVID-19 lockdowns may have cancelled festivals and closed down museums around the world, but some artists have continued to thrive.  

Emirati photographer Jalal Bin Thaneya told Arab News that in his field the pandemic has only slowed down artistic photography.

“Some documentary and news photographers are still able to work, especially those employed by organizations and governments fighting the virus,” Thaneya said. “Documenting and getting images of what is happening on the ground is extremely important.”

“Photography records moments,” the artist said. “In World War II, (the American photographer) Margaret Bourke-White was actively taking pictures and she has been a big influence on me.”

This, he believes, is an example of how photography and art have flourished during difficult times.

Despite the delays the lockdown has imposed on Thaneya’s projects, he says he now has got more time to work on his unpublished pictures. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Rims 02, 120x160 cm, 2018 / #industry #beyondthefence

A post shared by Jalal Bin Thaneya (@binthaneya) on

“Priorities have shifted overnight. I have many images I made that I never showed which I’m currently compiling. The lockdown has given me time to organize myself and prepare for future projects,” he said. 

The self-taught artist, who enjoys capturing industrial facilities and ghostly landscapes, said: “What I do is very niche and not widely appreciated in the region.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Valves / #industry #industrial_landscapes

A post shared by Jalal Bin Thaneya (@binthaneya) on

He discovered his passion by “accident” in 2013. “I saw old architecture being demolished at the Jabal Ali port and it is from that point that I started taking pictures of abandoned spaces before focusing on industrial landscapes and artefacts from 2016 to date.”

Thaneya believes that many people look down on his job. “However, if I listened to what people said, I would’ve stopped many years ago,” he added. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Raw material feeder and cement silos. // #Industry #Industrial_Dubai

A post shared by Jalal Bin Thaneya (@binthaneya) on

“You’ve got to follow your intuition and do things that give you purpose. Listening and following the crowd will only dilute your character and individual essence,” he advised other photographers who wish to pursue this career. 

“We cannot allow others to do the thinking for us, we need to be clear and focused on what we would like to achieve,” Thaneya said.