Friday, January 30, 2015

The Dreams of an Exile

"I consider myself an Iraqi artist 

and I want to contribute to this movement, 
and not to the English, French, Italian or the global movements."
Faisal Laibi Sahi 

In 1974 the 27 year old Faisal Laibi Sahi deemed it prudent to leave Iraq. Saddam Hussein was conducting an anti communist purge and with his leftist, progressive leanings Sahi elected for caution over valor and pursued his art studies at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and the Sorbonne University in France. Since then Sahi has lived in Italy, Algeria and currently lives and works in London. He may have left Iraq, but Iraq has never left him. "Baghdad, Baghdad, Baghdad," he told Newsweek in 2002. "Wherever I go, I take it with me."

Working mainly from imagination and memory this “social artist,” through his painting, drawing and mixed media work, explores the suffering of Iraqi’s political prisoners, the calamity of war, Kurdish marginalization, the oppression of women, and the ravages of child labor. As he told the Cairo Times in 2004 "I am engaged in my society and as an artist, I want to express my pain about what is happening. I want to see my society live a normal life where the citizen is respected,"

Of particular concern to Sahi is the conflation of church and state. As he has explained "The religious men support the military because their interests are the same. Together they stand against democracy and development."

But Sahi’s work isn't all doom and gloom; there is an optimistic aspect about his work. In his current exhibition at the Meem Gallery in Dubai he presents vividly colored paintings of individuals and group portraits that are ostensibly harmonious scenes of leisure.  Sahi also expresses his love of music in his work. "I should like to produce paintings like pieces of Arab poetry or Arab music on the oud or the qanun," he wrote in an exhibition brochure.

With exhibitions, over the years, in the Middle East, North Africa, the UK, Europe and the USA, Sahi’s heart still yearns for the country of his birth. As he says "Even though I have lived for years outside Iraq, I am still Iraqi, in my behavior, my culture, in what I eat, what I drink, when I talk with people-even in love," 

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