New Hope for Lost Works of Modern Art from Iraq

Modern Art Iraq Archive is to map out the modern art?s development in Iraq

Published on 21 March 2011

Author(s): Nafas art magazine/March 2011

Type:  News

Online Archive Educates and Encourages Public Participation to Trace Lost Works

The Modern Art Iraq Archive (MAIA), just made public, started as the result of a long-term effort to document and preserve the modern artistic works from the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad, most of which were lost and damaged in the fires and looting during the aftermath of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. As the site shows, very little is known about many of the works, including their current whereabouts and their original location in the Museum.

The lack of documents about modern Iraqi art prompted the growth of the project to include supporting text. The site makes the works of art available as an open access database in order to raise public awareness of the many lost works and to encourage interested individuals to participate in helping to document the museum’s original and/or lost holdings.

The MAIA site is the culmination of seven years of work by Project Director Nada Shabout, a professor of Art History and the Director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Institute (CAMCSI) at the University of North Texas. Since 2003, Shabout has been collecting any and all information on the lost works through intensive research, interviews with artists, museum personnel, and art gallery owners. Shabout received two fellowships from the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII) in 2006 and 2007 to conduct the first phase of data collection. In 2009, she teamed with colleagues at the Alexandria Archive Institute, a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to opening up global cultural heritage for research, education, and creative works.

The team won a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities to create an open, comprehensive virtual archive of the works that were once housed in Museum’s various galleries. These significant national treasures are displayed in an open format that invites worldwide use, including the Iraqi national and expatriate communities, and users are encouraged to help identify and further document individual pieces.

The aim of MAIA is to map out the modern art’s development in Iraq during the twentieth century and be a research tool to scholars, students, authorities, and the general public, as well as raise awareness of the rich modern heritage of Iraq. Furthermore, the creation of an authoritative and public inventory of the collection will not only act as a reminder of their cultural value and thus hopefully hasten their return, but will help combat smuggling and black market dealings of the works.

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