March 17, 2008

Iraqi painter Karim Alwali meets Jasper Johns and Mark Rothko

In the San Francisco Chronicle Meredith May reports that Karim Alwali, one of the most recognized abstract painters in Baghdad, is now painting memories of his homeland in a tiny apartment in San Jose. "Before the war, Alwali's work was on permanent display at the most prestigious museum in Iraq, Gallery Hawar. Now all he has left are a few paintings he was able to smuggle out of the country in August. He joined a network of 25 Iraqi refugee families in the Bay Area, where he must start over in a new culture and find a way to get noticed in a community already congested with artists....A caseworker is bringing him to art parties to help him network. Now he's trying to bring a renaissance to Iraqi art, using his status as a 'recent witness to history' to tell the story of his beleaguered country. He made a wooden, fold-out panel representing Al-Mutanabi Street, with burn holes, blood smears, ancient calligraphy and Koran verses. 'When I entered the U.S. I tried not to get surprised, but I failed in front of the beauty of San Francisco,' he said. And by beauty, he means abstract painters Jasper Johns and Mark Rothko. Alwali took a train to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on his third day in the United States, and stayed for eight hours, staring at their work." Read more.

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