Portrayal in a New Dark

After attending the presentation during the Arab Arts Festival here at the University of Oregon my previously skewed and ignorant view of Iraq people was altered. I, like many Americans, had only the one-dimensional view portrayed in the media of the Iraqi community and it wasn’t until after Sundus Abdul Hadi had shared her artistic perspective that an alternate view was presented to me. She, as an artist, made it her mission to portray her people in a light which juxtaposed and disproved that portrayed in the media. She became an artist in order to represent her homeland and contrast the darkness of a war-torn country with lighter elements of life outside the violence. Quoting the Baghdad Modern Art Group’s manifesto, Sundus said, “An artist has a duty to interpret society by depicting current events and recording the social conditions of the country,” a motto which she now lives and the idea for which she became an artist to reinforce. She identified her work as the materialization of, “the people’s voice vs. the media, military, and government.”

Sundus Abdul Hadi presented us with two of her exhibitions which she claimed would, “Re-claim, Re-imagine, Re-invent and Re-define” the images of Arab people and the war portrayed by American media. The first was a collection entitled “Warchestra: A Painting and Sound Experience.” A common theme displayed in these paintings was the censoring out of weapons to subvert meaning. She would take original photographs of Iraqis in American media and would paint them so that they looked exactly the same except for their weapons. In her paintings instead machine guns she would have them holding trumpets and other non-threatening objects. She would turn an image that already exists on its head and emphasize the gap between war and culture. She noted that, “the second casualty of war was not her people but their culture.”

Photo by: Sundus Abdul Hadi

All of her works in the “Warchestra” series also have audio components which can be viewed by clicking on the images of her tumblr blog:


While her first collection was heavy and emotionally difficult, the concept of her second collection was that of healing and required a very different approach. In an exhibition entitled “The Flight Series”; Sundus depicted just that—flight. She painted images of her people flying over recognizable locations in Iraq. These images could be considered both subversive and ironic because we, as viewers, know people cannot physically fly. It is through this irony that Sundus attempted to convey her message that even though flight is impossible, what is more inexcusable is our willingness to accept this fact. She believes that, through art, all things are possible. She again attempted to contrast the darkness portrayed in the media with a metaphorically hopeful perspective. She painted her second collection to illustrate a consciousness of what is happening in the world along with hope in a new generation.

Photo by: Sundus Abdul Hadi

Audio components can be discovered on:


Though our democratic society claims to be unbiased it is clear that we have, as anthropologists would define it, an etic or outsider’s view of the Middle East. We see Iraq and its people only as they are portrayed on television and in magazines—poverty stricken, violent, chaotic and male-dominated, when in reality it is quite different. Though the country has suffered a loss of culture at the expense of war, it is not entirely gone as we see in the emic or insider’s perspective displayed through Sundus’ work. She gives us an alternate view of a society unknown to us and instills in us the same hope for its future armistice.

Here is a video on Sundus’ newest project entitled “Arab Winter“, a show on which she is collaborating with her family.

Arab Winter Documentary: Part 2- Sundus Abdul Hadi from The Narcicyst on Vimeo.


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