Monday, January 31, 2005

Baghdad Journals

Steve Mumford's Baghdad Journals are bound to be something many visiting here might enjoy. It captures the exploits of a painter and his artist friends in Iraq. For example:

The day I get back from Baqubah, my Iraqi painter friend, Esam Pasha, insists on playing an episode of Friends for me on his computer. It’s a late episode, in which the humor seems self-referential, the characters tired. It’s a show I love to hate, but my teasing leaves Esam unimpressed.

There’s something else he really wants to show me, however. He produces a large tube from under his bed, sealed at each end with a U.S. army rations bag, and carefully withdraws a big roll of paper. We roll it out on the floor -- it’s a huge Mir? aquatint that was stolen from the Saddam Arts Center after the invasion. He’s been tracking it for months and bought it for a pittance from a seller in the Bab Sherji marketplace. Mir? is one of his favorite artists. The print measures perhaps three feet by four feet, and is typical of the late work, with loose black marks suggesting stars or moons, and simple, bold overlays of yellow, red and blue. It is beautiful and I can see why Esam loves it: it has the kind of simplicity that he strives for in his own painting.

He’s made no secret of his trophy, which has been recently valued at around $20,000. He intends to return it to the art museum when it’s rebuilt, and has already been interviewed by several journalists about his find.


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