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The Freedom To Create

By Crystal Kassab Jabiro

It's a far cry from being forced to immortalize Saddam Hussein in murals all over Iraq. When the Baath Party approached Amer Fatuhi, a well-established Iraqi artist, to paint portraits of the former Iraqi leader, he refused. He said he simply could not accept "blood money".

Amer Fatuhi fled Iraq in the 1990s with his wife and his four children to find artistic freedom in America. Now he co-directs Mesopotamia Learning Studio and Art Gallery in Ferndale.

Because Fatuhi was among the most celebrated artists in Iraq, the Baath Party was suspicious of his work, which depicted a paradox of themes - violence and love. Freedom, his favorite subject, remained constant. Yet he would not paint murals of Saddam Hussein.

"Our manifesto is that we're against everything that doesn't give us freedom", said Fatuhi of the circle of artists with whom he associates.

Fatuhi has been interested in art since he was a young boy. As a fifth grader in the 1960s, he took first place in an art contest at his Baghdad elementary school. He won books on art, and has since treasured the works of Michelangelo, Picasso and Dali.

"At that age, you are too young to really understand those pictures. As I got older, I saw myself in those pictures", said Fatuhi.

When he came to America, Fatuhi was very surprised by the art exhibited by the U.S. He felt it was very commercial. He saw a lot of artistic mimicking, and not enough originality. He also felt art was more marketed than appreciated.

Fatuhi's desire to see originality sparked a unique idea called "hot printing", a technique he created in 1991. Special paper is placed over oil pastel sketches and pressed with hot metal and ink to get an impression.

One of his greatest artistic achievements was winning the Iraqi Flag Competition in 1986. At the last minute, Saddam Hussein decided not to adopt the flag because it was created by a Christian. He later designed the Chaldean Flag adopted in 1995. It was attitudes like that drove him to leave Iraq and come to America.

"I left my heart in Iraq", he said. "So I draw what I feel".

Fatuhi, an artist, art critic and historian, continues to depict freedom through violence and love visual elements, although his style has changed a little over the years. His artistry is more abstract. He also like to draw mythological figures from Mesopotamian history. It has taken him anywhere form 15 minutes to five years to complete a piece.

Cultural painting that portray the Chaldean heritage can be found at the Mesopotamia Learning Studio and Art Gallery in Ferndale, which opened six months ago. Fatuhi co-directs the center with two other Chaldean artists, Mark George and Masood Yaldo. Together, they created a center to highlight the Chaldean culture through art. Among traditional paintings, George is renowned for his delicate glass carvings, and Yaldo is recognized for his intricate urethane carvings. The gallery consistently receives artwork from professional Mesopotamian artists living in America, as well as artists in Iraq, Holland, France, Germany, and Canada.

The art gallery directors are affiliated with many professional associations, including the Iraqi Visual Artists. Fatuhi belongs to the International Association of Professional Visual Artists based in Paris. He is the only Chaldean and the only Iraqi who belongs to the group.

The men are very proud of the accomplishments in the center.

"We wanted to do something great for the community", said Fatuhi. "But we can't do it alone. We need the help of the community".

The Mesopotamia Learning Studio and Art Gallery is located at 800 Livernois Avenue in Ferndale. It is open Monday-Friday from 2-7:30 p.m. and by appointment on weekends.

The Chaldean News, VOL. 2 Issue 11, October 2005