Art and Culture in Baghdad


Courtyard of Mustansiriya madrasa, established in 1227
By Taisir Mahdi - Own work, < a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62564761">CC BY-SA 4.0

The city of Baghdad has experienced great conflict and sadness since the military invasion in 2003. But artists, musicians and book sellers are bringing beauty and knowledge back to the city. Liz Waid and Ruby Jones look at the art and culture of Baghdad.

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Transcript


Voice 1

Hello, I’m Ruby Jones.

Voice 2

And I’m Liz Waid. Welcome to Spotlight. This programme uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

Iraq, 2007. A place of continuing struggle and conflict. Military helicopters fly low across the afternoon sky. In the distance, a bomb explodes. Bursts of machine gun fire follow. Another street battle is beginning. People in the street start to hurry home. It is not safe to be outdoors at such a time. But something they hear makes them stop suddenly. Music fills the air around them. Just for a minute, its sweetness makes them forget the troubles in their city. These people have experienced years of conflict and death. For them, it is good to remember that the world also contains beauty.

Voice 2

The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra played the music that day. This group of musicians - music makers - were meeting in the city centre. They needed to prepare for a series of performances. The musicians want to show the people of Iraq that music is very important. And it should be as much a part of their lives as the other events they experience daily. The orchestra is good news for the people of Iraq. We do not normally hear good news from this country. However, in today’s Spotlight we tell how people are restoring Iraq’s culture through music, books and art.

Voice 1

Iraq’s national orchestra formed in 1959. It was the country’s official orchestra - the government paid its musicians. It soon became famous across the Arab world. And musicians came from many different countries to be part of this orchestra. However, the military invasion of 2003 changed this. Musicians no longer felt that coming to Iraq was safe. And something worse happened. During a riot, crowds destroyed a lot of the orchestra’s instruments and music. Majid Hussein Moussa plays the trumpet in the orchestra. He described those events:

Voice 3

“They were burning the music - smashing up violins and pianos and putting them in the fire. When I asked them why they were doing this, they told me, ‘If you stay, you will burn with them.’ They ruined so much at that time. It was so sad.”

Voice 1

Majid Hussein Moussa had another frightening experience. Some gunmen kidnapped him from outside his home. He explained what happened to him:

Voice 3

“The men covered my eyes. Then they put me in the back of a car. They took me to a room somewhere. They accused me of being a soldier. But I had papers to show that I was only a poor musician.”

Voice 2

Many of the orchestra’s members believed that Iraq was no longer safe. So they left. But Moussa and the remaining orchestra members showed great courage. They decided to continue playing music. They received financial help from organizations overseas. And they managed to buy new instruments and music. And so the orchestra continues to play - easing people’s troubled spirits.

Voice 1

Iraqi people are famous for their love of books. One famous Arabic saying is: “Egypt writes. Lebanon publishes. And Iraq reads.” Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, once contained one of the biggest libraries in the world. People would come from far away to look through its wonderful book collection. But almost 800 years ago, invading armies came from the east. They killed the people of Baghdad. And they destroyed all of the library’s many books. Today, some Baghdad booksellers would say that history has repeated itself.

Voice 2

The Mutanabi Street bookmarket, Baghdad. In March 2007, a suicide bomber blew himself up here. Twenty people died. And historical cafes and bookstores were left in ruins. Abdul Rahim is an unemployed teacher. For him, the bombing shows similar thinking to the events of eight hundred years ago - destroying people and culture. He explains:

Voice 4

“It shows that some people do not think very highly of learning - as well as being afraid of it. Books open the mind to argument and debate. And that is what a lot of people in Baghdad do not want.”

Voice 2

Six months later, however, some of the Mutanabi Street book stores re-opened for business. And Abdul Rahim sees this as a positive act. He says:

Voice 4

“Here we have American books, British books and religious books. The old government banned them. But people can now buy them and make up their own minds.”

Voice 2

Naim El Shatry has been selling books here for 40 years. At one point, He no longer thought that Iraq’s culture could survive the violence. But now, he has hope. He says:

Voice 5

“You cannot keep people away from books any more than you can keep them away from water. The mind always needs a drink. People need to satisfy it.”

Voice 1

A group of friends sit around a table. They are in an open space in a building given over to art. It is a warm afternoon. But some trees give them cover from the sun. As the friends talk, one man looks around at some pictures on the wall close by. Some of the man’s friends painted these pictures. And the man wants as many people as possible to see them. For him, art can provide a way out of the terrible situation his country is in.

Voice 2

The man’s name is Hassan Nasser. Hasssan opened his art gallery in 2006. And he is always organizing events there. Special talks, people reading poems, film shows - there is always something to do at the Madarat Gallery. Hassan does not make much money from the gallery as a business. But that is not his aim. He says:

Voice 6

“We are trying to get back the Iraqi open mind. It is a chance for a new period. And I want to be part of that.”

Voice 2

And unlike some people, he does not believe that life was better under the old government. He says:

Voice 6

“I did not suffer from any violence. But life was misery, especially if you liked to be free. In Iraq before, you had to follow orders. Then we were just breathing. Now we have hope, hope for a good future.”

Voice 2

There may not be many people in Iraq who share Hassan’s hopeful views. But he stands along with the artists and musicians and book sellers of Baghdad. Together they continue to create a world of music, beauty and knowledge - a place where crushed hearts and minds can heal and grow.

Voice 1

The writer and producer of today’s programme was Ruby Jones. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotations were adapted for this programme. This programme is called, “Art and Culture in Baghdad.”

Voice 2

Thank you for joining us today. Goodbye.

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Question:

Is art important in your culture? Is reading or music important in your culture?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
Lan Can
said on May 14, 2020

I am from Vietnam and we passed the war so I really understand what Iraqi suffered. And this is so interesting to know that they are fond of books. I hope they will be always peaceful.

Avatar Spotlight
Jamal Shanshool
said on May 17, 2020

Hello and welcome,
I’m from Baghdad Iraq. Actually, there are more interesting stories about Iraq than this story. comparing with this it’s nothing, this is such an illusion… Thank you,
I hope you to write about American forces invaded and occupied Iraq and how ruined everything and still! IN fact, this is the TRUTH!
Thank you for your honesty,
We move to you the event as a text to show you the picture! you can imagine.