Iraqi artist inspired by George W Bush shoe thrower

Story highlights

  • Hanaa' Malallah says she left Iraq in 2006 after receiving threats from militias
  • Inspired by Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George W. Bush, she says shoes are her "resistance"
  • She has joint exhibition with British duo kennardphillipps

To Iraqi artist Hanaa' Malallah her shoes are weapons of mass destruction that appear in many of her works.

Her inspiration is an incident in 2008, when Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at former president George W. Bush, five years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The invasion was aimed at rooting out Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, but U.S. inspectors eventually conceded that he did not have any.

Malallah's exhibition, "Iraq -- How, Where, For Whom?" held jointly with the British duo kennardphillipps, opens in London on Friday April 20.

Her shoes appear in a photograph labeled I.W.M.D (Iraq's Weapon's of Mass Destruction). They are also embroidered on an American flag, on an Iraqi flag, and the originals are in a glass display case.

"They are my shoes," said Malallah. "I bought them after I arrived in Britain and I used them for three years."

She added: "Shoes are our way of resistance. It's all we have. My resistance is through art."

Malallah, formerly a university art lecturer in Baghdad, says she left Iraq in late 2006 after two of her colleagues were killed and she received threats from militias. She now lives in Britain.

"They started to kill a lot of academics," she said. "I was a woman without a headscarf, teaching in the university and I received threats, so I had to leave.

"Two months after I left, a group of militias entered my home and stole everything. My sister called to say my flat had gone.

"I don't have anyone left there now and I think I would lose my life just like that if I went back. It's hard. There are no words to describe it, so I use my art to explain."

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Malallah said her art reflects three decades of living with war in Iraq, from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s through the first Gulf War in 1991 and subsequent sanctions, to the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 and the chaos that followed.

Much of her work uses what she describes as the "ruins technique," using burnt fabric to depict destruction, often on abstract canvases.

She said she experienced the war by "tasting" it, as there was no electricity or media to provide information.

Describing life in Baghdad since 1991, Malallah said: "Baghdad was heavily bombed in the First Gulf War. It was hell out of the world. I saw destruction every day and I lived with death every day.

"There was a shortage of food, water and electricity, but you have to survive. Many managed to survive and a lot didn't. Three of my students were killed working in the artistic area.

"I speak to my colleagues by phone and there are still big problems and people dying every day for lots of reasons."

She added: "I hated Saddam Hussein, but we were better off than now. At least there was a government. If we want to remove a dictator, we have to do it by ourselves."

Malallah's work is shown alongside that of the British duo kennardphillipps, Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps, who started collaborating in late 2002 in opposition to the proposed invasion of Iraq.

"We were going on all the anti-war demos, but it was evident the invasion was going to happen anyway and we wanted to find another way to protest against it," said Phillipps.

They create work from media images of the war, such as photo montages and collages from newspaper clippings.

Their most famous work, a photomontage called "Photo Op," is a digitally altered image that shows a smiling Tony Blair, the British prime minister at the time of the invasion, in front of an explosion.

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Another, called "Presidential Seal," shows the American president's empty podium, with the microphones pointing to a backdrop of newspaper clippings and photos which have been smashed with a hammer, creating an impression of debris and chaos.

Malallah hopes the exhibition will eventually be shown in Iraq. She said most professional artists had fled the country, leaving a dearth of new talent.

"It's a very bad situation for artists in Iraq at the moment," said Malallah. "They have no contact with the outside world.

"There are a lot of good artists who have left the country and it has really affected those who are left."

"Iraq -- How, Where, For Whom?" opens at The Mosaic Rooms, in London, on Friday April 20 and runs until June 8, 2012.

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