Reporters on the Job
• Another Vision of Iraq: What struck correspondent Sam Dagher most about the Iraqi sculptor Nida Kadhim was his relative inner peace, how well he had reconciled himself with his past, and his optimism despite all the discouraging violence in Baghdad.
In the early 1950s when Iraq was ruled by a British-supported monarchy, says Sam, Mr. Kadhim was a student at the Academy of Fine Arts. When Saddam Hussein's Baath Party regime came to power in 1968, Kadhim worked at the Ministry of Culture. As a Communist who refused to join the Baathists, he slowly started to feel pressure to "reform." In 1976, he left Iraq to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. "He told me about his bohemian and carefree years in Italy, sometimes bartering his sketches for food and clothing," says Sam.
Kadhim returned to Iraq in 1983 only to see his 24-year-old brother, a recent graduate of film school in Paris, arrested and hanged for evading Army conscription during the Iraq-Iran War. In the following years, he witnessed firsthand how Mr. Hussein controlled art in all its forms. Sculpting became focused on grandiose busts and monuments of the leader or memorials of themes he deemed worthy.
Kadhim endured, only to see much of his publicly displayed work lost in the looting that devastated Baghdad in days after US soldiers entered the city in April 2003.
Today, he's willing to forgive former members of Hussein's regime, and wants to do something that might reunite his fractured people (see story). Sam says: "He told me that the problem is that Iraqis are afraid. 'It's like they climbed up palm trees to protect themselves. But one day they will come down and start talking to each other again.'
Even as politicians fail in uniting Iraqis, Sam says that Kadhim, other artists, and even the national soccer team, persist in keeping the ideal of reconciliation alive.
– David Clark Scott