Meet the man who sculpted Saddam Hussein

Artist: Sculpting is my life

    Just Watched

    Artist: Sculpting is my life

Artist: Sculpting is my life 03:10

Story highlights

  • Under Saddam Hussein's regime, Natiq al Alousi was commissioned to create works depicting the dictator
  • Al Alousi, a sculptor, says artists received much support from Saddam
  • He says working for Saddam was only a "fact of history" and does not regret it

For the generation of Iraqi artists who came of age under Saddam Hussein's regime in the 1980s, one common subject was the dictator himself, often depicted holding a sword or riding an Arabian horse.

Politics aside, those were good days for artists, says Natiq al Alousi, 49, an Iraqi sculptor who considers his commissioned work of Saddam to be an achievement.

"Working as an artist in Iraq, when Saddam Hussein was president, was a golden period for all artists, not just myself. He was supportive of artists and was open to them," he says. "But we weren't open to the world for security reasons, and that's it."

Receiving small recognition from Saddam was important to him as a budding artist, al Alousi says. As a student he entered a large competition -- one that he did not expect to win -- and Saddam attended the event.

Upon viewing his work, "Saddam Hussein himself told me that the idea was nice, and that's the only thing I remember from the whole competition," he says.

Artist blurs cultural borders

    Just Watched

    Artist blurs cultural borders

Artist blurs cultural borders 05:01
PLAY VIDEO

Read more: Bringing Babylon back from the dead

Al Alousi went on to create public sculptures and some that were placed in presidential palaces. Some were made for aesthetics and others to reflect events or issues that the country faced, he says.

His memories of the time under Saddam can verge on idyllic. "There was never a day, for any artist in any form of art, who was forced to work for Saddam Hussein or the country," he says. "We were all happily working, and there were competitions that anyone can participate in."

And when Saddam fell in 2003, so too did al Alousi's statues. He says it is disheartening to think of art being torn down.

Now living in Abu Dhabi, al Alousi still sculpts using various mediums, but there are stumbling blocks. Few people there want to buy large statues, he says, and there is not even a foundry for his bronze works. He has to mail molds more than 1,000 miles away to Egypt, and the bronze rarely survives the return journey intact.

In Abu Dhabi, "the art movement is still yet to begin in the right way. It did start, but it needs more solidarity and extra encouragement from certain entities for it to be mature," he says.

Read more: Rediscovering Iraq's cultural heart

But al Alousi sees these as only minor problems for his art, which he says is the "purest thing" in his life, a matter of expression, beauty and experimentation.

And he says art has nothing to do with politics or religion. As for his associations with the dictator, it only meant he was at the top of his game.

"I do not regret that I once worked for Saddam Hussein," he said. "This is history. Only the best artists work for presidents."

      Inside the Middle East

    • Aquaventure was expanded in 2013 to include a Leap of Faith ride that passes through a shark-filled aquarium. Visitors can swim in a manmade lagoon filled with marine animals.

      Robot dinosaurs, Lego men and Spider-Man all could become Dubai's newest residents.
    • Al Nassma is the first camel milk chocoalte company in the world. The Dubai-based company had gone global, and Al Nassma products are carried in high-end department stores around the world, including London's Selfridges.

      Not long ago camel milk was an unfancied staple, the preserve of Bedouin herders. Now its becoming a luxury.
    • Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, 'House of God' that Muslims believe was built by Abraham 4,000 years ago, on September 30, 2014. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers started pouring into the holy city for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. This year's Hajj comes as the authorities strive to protect pilgrims from two deadly viruses, Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus or MERS

      Managing over 2 million people during the Hajj takes some serious technology.
    • Sarah Attar of Saudi Arabia compete's as one of only two women from the country at the London Olympic Games.

      More needs to be done so women from Saudi Arabia can become world champions in sports.
    • The Humans of New York photo project exposes the hopes and fears of ordinary people in Iraq and Jordan.
    • Dubai's appetite for construction continues with multi-billion dollar boost to build the world's largest airport.