I Am Baghdad III

Reposted from OnlineAhwa.


I am Baghdad III, 2008, acrylic, charcoal and marker pen on Arabic newspaper on canvas, 48″ x 48″- 122 cm x 122 cm

The portrait above gazes out at its audience, grabs its attention and commands it to listen. I Am Baghdad III is one of a series of paintings by Iraqi artist Ayad Alkadhi in which he narrates individual Iraqi responses to the post-occupation Iraq. He has taken a single Iraqi face, his own, and overlaid it with visual elements that recount his interviews with Iraqi citizens.

Ayad Alkadhi has purposefully left the interpretation of the portrait’s story up to the viewer (Griffith). One possible interpretation is shaped by the colors that he has chosen and color symbolism. Black and white, the primary colors used in the portrait, are significant in many cultures. In Arabic, black is associated with death, hell, and past wars (Hasan 208). White, on the other hand, has generally positive meanings, with “white-hearted” conveying innocence and the “white dove” and “white revolution” being peaceful (Al-Aladeih 8). Based on these colors and their connotations, the individual in this image mourns the death of war and desires peace and innocence in the future. This interpretation is supported by Ayad Alkadhi’s own statements that his main purpose is to communicate emotion (Shangri La).

I Am Baghdad III was painted in 2008, following years of violence in Iraq, and the events surrounding its creation play a key role. The painting is literally against a backdrop of current events, as represented by the Iraqi and Palestinian newspapers that connect the work to local and international contexts (Griffith). The international connections include the Palestinian newspapers and the football player in the corner, while the Iraqi newspapers likely report on the US invasion of Iraq as well as sectarian violence, bombings carried out against civilians and the breakdown in infrastructure such as clean water (BBC, Ditmars)

According the Alkadhi, “painted words give the notion of a story being told,” but these words are simply a collection of letters without literal meaning (Alkadhi). This gives the viewer the opportunity to interpret the story being told. The letters are large and bold yet translucent, suggesting transience or fragility. The movement and size gives them life. Combined with the covered mouth, the letters pull the viewer inside the consciousness of the portrait, highlighting the beauty and fragility of the inner life. The absence of any explicit message prevents the painting from being used as propaganda (Alkadhi).

In addition to its storytelling value, Arabic calligraphy is often used in modern art as a means of connecting with an older artistic tradition, and this is certainly true for Alkadhi (Al-Sadoun). He states that calligraphy is one of the “creative nuances” of Islamic culture, used in contemporary work as a “calling card” (Griffith).

As an Iraqi living in America, Alkadhi has often been asked about the Iraq War by Americans who want more information than the news provides (Alkadhi). Alkadhi connects this with the desire for emotional information, and painted the I Am Baghdad series to bridge this gap between his Iraqi friends and his American friends (Alkadhi). His combination of a face, symbolic colors, and current events emphasize the individual experience of war and suffering.




Al-Adaileh, Bilal A. “The Connotations of Arabic Color Terms.” Linguistica Online, Issue 13, 2012, http://www.phil.muni.cz/linguistica/art/al-adaileh/ada-001.pdf. Accessed 8 Apr. 2017.

Alkadhi, Ayad. “I Am Baghdad III.” 2008. http://aalkadhi.com/content/I_am_baghdad/baghdad_html/3.htm. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.

Ditmars, Hadani. “Post Invasion Iraq – the facts.” New Internationalist Magazine, Issue 432, 2010, https://newint.org/features/2010/05/01/post-invasion-iraq-facts/. Accessed 8 Apr. 2017.

Griffith, Lesa. “Ayad Alkadhi on ‘I Am Baghdad XV.’” Honolulu Museum of Art, http://blog.honoluluacademy.org/ayad-alkadhi-on-i-am-baghdad-xv/. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.

Hasan, Amna A. et al. “How Colours are Semantically Construed in the Arabic and English Culture: A Comparitive Study.” English Language Teaching, vol. 4, no. 3, 2011, http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1080712.pdf. Accessed 8 Apr. 2017.

“Iraq Profile – Timeline.” BBC News, 5 Dec. 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14546763. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.

“Ayad Alkadhi Talks About His Experiences as an Artist & Resident at Shangri La.” Shangri La: Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, 11 Feb. 2013, http://blog.shangrilahawaii.org/wordpress/ayad-alkadhi-experiences-as-an-artist-and-resident-at-shangri-la/. Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.

“Quest to Belong by Ayad Alkadhi.” Vimeo, uploaded by Shangri La Hawaii, 2013, http://www.shangrilahawaii.org/Programs/Calendar-of-Events/Alkadhi-Lecture/.


Het Groot Dictee der Nederlandse Taal

Imagine if instead of a football game, the OU-TX rivalry centered around a spelling bee. That would be awesome, and I would totally watch it. Similarly, a rivalry between Dutch speakers in the Netherlands and Belgium is embodied in Het Groot Dictee der Nederlandse Taal, an annual dictation-slash-spelling bee hosted by two major newspapers. The participants are not children either; they are journalists, writers, politicians, rappers, athletes, and comic-strip artists. To top it all off, the Groot Dictee (pronounced khrote dic-tay) is hosted in the Dutch equivalent of the Senate, the Eerste Kamer.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching and playing along. I did quite a bit worse than the average, and far worse than the best. The participants were divided into teams and the errors of each were averaged: Dutch celebrities (25 errors), readers of the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant (15), Flemish celebrities (21), and readers of the Belgian newspaper De Morgen (12). Overall, the Flemish outperformed the Dutch, and the newspaper readers bested the celebrities. However, the Dutch author Gustaaf Peck had the lowest individual celebrity score (12) and Volkskrant reader Roberto LaRocca had the lowest score of all (6). Depending on how you count multiple errors in a word, I had around 31 errors. But I was pleasantly surprised at how many of the words I did know. In fact, being Anglophone meant that some of the harder words for the participants were cognates I could spell.

After the general round, the person from each group with the lowest score was chosen for a final round, which more closely resembled American spelling bees. A word was read out, and the first team to misspell a word lost. The Flemish reader, Marco Sanders, won with balalaikaspeelster, which means balalaikaplayer and which I happened to get right as well. However, he said in an interview that he did not consider himself the winner, since he had one more error in the dictee.

Overall, I found this to be a very exciting display of language mastery. The text itself, written by Adrianus van der Heijden, concerned the flood of English loanwords in Dutch. His disapproval fell less on individual words, some of which he used in the dictee itself, than on the mixing of English and Dutch: Dunglish. He described this linguistic situation as a continuation of British colonialism, a sort of belated battle in the Anglo-Dutch wars that undermines the national style. You can find the full text here. I look forward to next year’s Groot Dictee.

First Days in Quetzaltenango

My sister and I arrived in Guatemala last Monday and took the bus from the capital to Quetzaltenango.
We arrived rather later than anticipated due to a lost suitcase, which I only recently recovered, only to find that it was damaged beyond further use. We are staying with a host family a less than two minute walk away from Guatemalensis Spanish School. We eat all three meals with them. Only one woman and her daughter live there, but some of her family joins her for part of the day. It’s a great opportunity to get a peek at Guatemalan life, try the food, and work on our listening and speaking.

I’m really enjoying the school. The directors and teachers have been very kind and helpful, both in familiarizing us with the city and language and in persistently trying to get my bag back. We have class every weekday from 8 to 1, with a break in the middle. They also organize excursions for us to learn more about Guatemala and practice our Spanish.

As some of you may know, I have not officially studied Spanish before. I knew bits and pieces of vocabulary and grammar from various looks at the language, handy bilingual signs, and helping my sister practice. But I would not say I knew the language. Apparently I knew more than I realized, and the constant immersion and practice is making me put all those pieces together and actually use the language. I am far from elegant, and sometimes it turns out that I am actually speaking French, but I at least can get my point across and understand when the teachers speak slowly.

So far we have had three excursions. The first was to the center of the city, where there is a very old cathedral, a central park, and several government buildings, most of which have gardens in the middle. The cathedral and some of the columns in the park have been affected by earthquakes thanks to the volcanoes. I find it amusing that I went from Oklahoma, with fracking induced earthquakes and tornadoes, to Guatemala with more earthquakes and volcanoes. Even my teacher was familiar with the tornadoes in Oklahoma.

We also walked through one of the city’s markets, La Democracia. It is a large market located both under a permanent structure and in the streets. They sell everything from fruits and vegetables to clothes and candles. I enjoy learning about new types of fruit, such as the five types of mangoes. Some of these are quite huge. Quetzaltenango trades its vegetables for fruit from the coast, where it is more tropical.

Last Thursday, we took a trip to a nearby village, San Andre Xecul, which is home to the oldest church in Central America. Like many of the villages, it is primarily inhabited by the Maya, and the mix of religions was quite obvious. The designs on the church included both God, Mary and Jesus and the jaguars that are part of the Mayan creation story. Higher up, another church from the same time period sits next to a Mayan altar. Even the name is a mix of cultures: San Andre was added by the Spanish, and Xecul is from two words meaning low and blanket, referring to the clouds that blanket the mountain.

Also in San Andre Xecul, we visited a home where a family dyes cotton thread. Dyed thread is one of the main industries of the village. The colors are very bright: red, orange, lime green, sky blue. The whole family works there. In fact, it is primarily the job of the brothers of the lady who showed us around to dye the thread, since it involves a lot of strength. They work early in the morning, from 4 to 8, so the thread can dry before the afternoon rains. The thread is packaged and sold in the city and in neighboring towns.

In talking with the director, who lead our excursion, we learned both about Guatemala’s past and present. Under Spanish rule, the Mayans were slaves. During this time, the markets started. Before that, the Mayans used a bartering system. But they needed money to pay taxes to the Spanish, and the Spanish wanted to buy things instead of working. The taxes were eventually the downfall of the Spanish, since neither their descendants nor the Mayan leaders wanted to keep paying them and joined together for independence.

The area of Guatemala surrounding San Andre Xecul has seen many people immigrate to the United States. Many men and women leave carrying only a small backpack. Many of these die along the way, and others return because of the difficulty of life in the US. Others are captured and sent back, while still others stay for years before returning, if they ever do. This is obviously extremely difficult for the families. The Guatemalan government erected a statue to these immigrants, particularly those who die during the journey. I was particularly struck by how many are deported: 30,000 last year and two planes each week this year. After hearing immigration discussed so much from a US perspective, it was interesting and sobering to hear about it from a Guatemalan perspective.

While it is somewhat overwhelming to be completely immersed, I am enjoying learning so much about the language and culture.