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Azeema Faniya: Creative Echoes from 90s Iraq

The 1990s in Iraq are not remembered as a time of celebration, but rather as a period marked by difficulty, death, and disruption. It profoundly shaped the experiences and identities of many Iraqis, passing its influence to the next generation. However, amidst this struggle, the voices of many women artists have been forgotten or obscured by the suffering.

For Creative Iraq's first in-person workshop, conducted in collaboration with Aziza Organization and Tuhfa, women of various ages came together to explore the key voices of the female art world during these challenging times. They reflected on their lived experiences, engaged in group therapy sessions, and participated in an art workshop inspired by Nuha Al Radi's "Embargo Art" collection.

"As a writer, I felt greatly inspired by the stories shared by everyone, and recalling such a painful period in our lives required an art workshop to release all that energy. I enjoyed working with modeling clay, and my friends and I laughed and had fun while creating," - Luma, 50 years old.

Following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the United Nations Security Council imposed an embargo on Iraq that technically lasted until 2003. These measures had a profound impact on innocent Iraqi citizens, leading to increased child mortality, limited access to medication, agricultural decline, and a significant drop in the GDP of Iraqi citizens. The suffering endured by Iraqi citizens due to misinformed Western powers and oppressive policies is well-documented, but the full extent of casualties may never be known.

During this period of struggle and tragedy, female artists like Leyla Al Attar and Nuha Al Radi made a significant impact. Leyla, renowned for her mosaic of US President George Bush at the Al-Rashid Hotel entrance, was tragically killed in a 1993 bombing. Her sister, Suad Al Attar, drew inspiration from Mesopotamian heritage, using darker colors after Leyla's death. Nuha Al Radi expressed her critique of the sanctions through her 'embargo art,' while her book 'Baghdad Diaries' humanized the suffering endured during the Gulf War, challenging dominant narratives of war and conflict.

Creative Iraq believes these remarkable women should be celebrated. Through partnerships with Aziza Organization and Tuhfa, they brought together women with shared interests in art, history, creativity, and discussion. Seventeen participants shared their experiences, memories, and anecdotes from this challenging period of Iraqi history.

They presented a series of photos from that era, allowing those who lived through it to share their stories and educate the younger generation about life during that time. The gathering culminated in a meal featuring dishes popular during the era of sanctions when women had to be creative in the kitchen with limited resources.

The women engaged in a vulnerable discussion session on the theme of "belonging" and healing from trauma, and the workshop concluded by shedding light on the incredible female Iraqi artists and their works. Participants were invited to channel their creativity by emulating the style of Nuha Al Radi's 'Embargo Art' using limited materials to recreate childhood playtime.

"My favorite moments were when we discussed the topic of belonging and when we viewed photos from the era of the blockade and got to know Iraqi female artists from the 1990s and their works. I gained a lot of new information," - Rahma, 23 years old. We love to provide unique opportunities for people like Rahma who are interested in engaging with the past through art.

Creative Iraq is unique in its combination of Iraqi art history and workshops accessible to anyone interested. It serves as a platform for organic and democratic expression and creativity. After years of mismanagement in the arts and culture sector and the consequences of conflict, there is a substantial gap in understanding Iraqi history and art history, leading to a tendency to replicate global trends. Creative Iraq believes that through unique experiences, they can connect creative communities to the past, fostering experimentation and education for a vibrant future. Azeema Faniya marked the first in-person workshop for Creative Iraq, with more exciting plans for the future. Stay tuned for what's next!

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