A Fresh Start
Iraqi- born artist Mahdi Neamah paints from the heart
Tuesday, Mar 03, 2015 06:00 am
“In Canada, I feel safe, so there is no war in my art.”
For over 30 years, Mahdi Neamah worked for the Iraqi Ministry of Culture and Information. He was the Director of Iraq’s Fine Arts Magazine, held a Masters Degree in Fine Art in Baghdad. Ironically, despite years of political upheaval, war and dictatorship in his home country, it was the end of Saddam Hussein’s reign that forced Madhi Neamah and his family to escape. The new government was more Islamic, and Neamah’s views on religion and politics would have put his life in danger.
Neamah says no two people will see his paintings in the same way. His current work is very different from the work he did while living in Iraq, he says. In his previous life, themes of war were an important part of his art. Today he says “I don’t like war. I want humanity, safety.”
Thanks in part to an Edmonton Art Council Diversity in the Arts award, Neamah is able to start over as an artist. He writes about art for a Canadian Arabic-language magazine and is exhibiting his work at Edmonton’s Latitude 53. The exhibit is called Rhythms Humanitarian. “The universe works in rhythms – there is night and day, dark and light, sun and moon. Even the act of walking is a rhythm.”
Much of the work reflects a world where “the universe has a problem and there are no longer any people.” Neamah calls some of his work Romantic Surrealism. The paintings show the potential of the earth to be productive and support life – even if it is devoid of people. Traces of humanity and the use of color keep the paintings from being desolate, yet themes of violence find their way into the abstract works, with strong reds that represent spilled blood. The subject comes from the heart, so he doesn't shy away from difficult images: one of the canvasses is starkly reminiscent of a battle field. When the Baghdad Museum was looted during the American invasion, one of Neamah’s paintings was stolen. Even though Neamah regrets the loss, now that he is in Canada he says he can now look back from a place of safety to where he “doesn’t have to worry anymore."