Artists Speak For Lebanon - 09.22.2006

Brian Conley and Omar Abdullah

BAGHDAD, Sep 19 (IPS) - If art knows no boundaries, artists don’t either. Through witnessing destruction all around them, Iraqi artists have found time to spare a thought and more for Lebanon.

It began with a conference at the Fine Arts Academy in Baghdad Aug. 15, where artists from the group ‘Where are My Rights?’ came together to condemn the failure of Iraqi and Arab non-governmental organisations to come to Lebanon’s aid.

“In America, Australia, and those countries that supported the bombing of Lebanon, their NGOs made demonstrations against the war in Lebanon, but here in Iraq most of our NGOs said nothing,” head of ‘Where are My Rights?’ Ahmed Muhammad Ahmed told IPS. “We spent our own money to have this conference to express the feelings of the Iraqis.”

About 150 people attended the conference, among them artists from all over Baghdad. They gathered to discuss ways of confronting issues facing Lebanon, Iraq, and what many referred to as the “Arab Homeland”.

The conference has set off dialogue reflecting a continuing concern among artists who decide they cannot remain apolitical.

Juma’a Shumran, head of the Iraqi-Lebanon Friendship Organisation, says his group is working to make new cultural connections between Iraq and Lebanon.

“Because we are a friendship organisation to that country, we have a duty to Lebanon and our brothers and sisters there,” he told IPS. “Before the bombing we were planning to make a fine arts gallery in Lebanon and to arrange music performances.”

The war in Lebanon has set all of this back, if not completely destroyed the possibility. “When the bombing of Lebanon started we decided to do something about it and we came to the decision to host a conference about what is happening in Lebanon.”

Much of the political expression comes naturally through art, not statement.

Jabar Muhaabis, headmaster of the theatre department of Baghdad’s Fine Arts Academy has written plays that have been performed all over Baghdad. And there are keen audiences for this unsuspected theatre life in Baghdad.

“Today I am here performing my play in the theatre of the Fine Art Academy, and the name of that play is ‘Urgent Urgent From Beirut’, Muhaabis said at one of his shows. “In Baghdad we made this play to share the pain of the Lebanese people and to express our feelings about what happened in the south of Lebanon.”

‘Urgent, Urgent, from Beirut’ is a musical, created from a song by that name by Muhammad Fariq, a well-known musician from the Academy. Through the use of music, the play attempts to draw parallels between suffering in Lebanon and Iraq.

The plays are not about Lebanon alone. Other plays by Muhaabis have been staged in theatres in Sadr City and at the Mustansariya College in Baghdad.

Despite the unanimous frustration with the Israeli government, artists are speaking of solidarity throughout the Middle East, even with the people of Israel.

Juma’a Shumran said, “I would like to thank the Israeli women who made a demonstration to stop the war against Lebanon, and I would like thank anyone who calls for peace. I would like to send my greetings to the Lebanese people and from myself, as the head of the Iraqi Lebanon Friendship Organisation, to all of the peacemakers in the world.”

Jabar Muhaabis echoed calls for peace, and said his plays spoke of a need for unity and “to show we are one people in everything, and to show the reality of what is happening here and there, as well as to allow all people to play a part on the stage of democracy.”

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