New Work Which Explores War, Memory and Loss Acquired by York Art Gallery
11 February 2019
A thought-provoking work by highly regarded Iraqi artist Mohammed Sami has recently been acquired by York Art Gallery.
British, American Scarecrow (2017) – which featured in the Gallery’s exhibition The Sea is the Limit exhibition last summer – depicts a scarecrow draped in the colours of Britain and the United States against a backdrop of destruction caused by the conflict in Iraq.
It draws on Sami’s first-hand experiences as an artist at the Ministry of Culture in Baghdad, before he came to Europe in 2007.
It will now become part of the Gallery’s permanent collection thanks to a generous grant from the Friends of York Art Gallery.
Dr Beatrice Bertram, Senior Curator at York Art Gallery, said:
“This contemporary, evocative piece is a fantastic addition to our permanent collections and we are delighted Mohammed Sami has made it available to us. It conflates themes treated elsewhere in the Gallery’s collection: namely war, memory and loss, and shares strands with other key wartime landscapes such as those by Paul Nash, Sydney Carline and Arthur Radclyffe Dugmore – landscapes which were once scenic, but are now heavily scarred by military interventions.
“Sami’s journey has been a remarkable story of survival. Working as an artist at the Ministry of Culture in Baghdad, he survived several attempts on his life, lost close friends, and witnessed scenes of execution. Passionate about the heritage and future of his homeland, since leaving a decade ago he has continued to witness traumatic events from afar which are captured in his brilliant works.”
The work is now on show in The Burton Gallery.
British, American Scarecrow’s backdrop is punctuated by upturned and broken date palms – a crop the country was once famed for (Iraq once accounted for 75% of the world’s dates, but now accounts for just 5% following the focus on oil and decades of conflict). A symbolic scarecrow, draped in the colours of Britain and the United States, hovers over the razed ground, with billowing clouds hinting towards burning oil fields.
The work boldly engages with many relevant and pervasive themes in the world today including foreign interventions, devastated landscapes, loss of culture and resulting migration.
Born in Iraq, Mohammed Sami created huge Al Báath murals on the walls of his school as a child. Painting has long been a means by which he engages with traces of personal memory: he believes that ‘the medium of painting has the capacity to record the ghosts of something lost, not present, and [which] therefore become the spiritual register of the permanent’.
Having emigrated to Europe in 2007, traumatic aftershocks of the Iraq war persist ‘as subconscious echoes’ within the materiality of his paintings, which thematise living and the human condition by drawing upon both autobiographical and general sources. The abstract, ambiguous nature of his output resists categorization, and encourages the viewer to interpret their meanings for themselves.