Shadow of Paradise
In 2004, my parents locked themselves in their bedroom. What I heard through the wall in Arabic, has forever painted an image in my mind - motivating every piece of work I make. Once the Americans captured Saddam, they opened military bases in Iraq. My uncles operated a restaurant on a US base. Soon after, a BBC media crew was filming Iraqis about what the presence of American forces meant for their freedom. One of my uncles shared how proud he was to be an Iraqi and how positive this new change was for my country. When his interview aired, they received threats to shut down their restaurant. Two of my uncles heeded these warnings and left the country - one stayed behind, to continue cooking. He was kidnapped and held for ransom. My family delivered the sum to secure his release, but what they received in return was something unimaginable. My uncle turned up in a hospital. His body was discovered by a man walking late at night, buried in a shallow grave. His eyes were removed and his hands were severed. He was lucky to be alive.
My uncle’s crime - he was serving food to the Americans.
I was born in Saudi Arabia. Soon after we moved to the US, first stopping in New York and then on to California. My parents re-entered the education system, as their university degrees were deemed incomparable. Our stay in California was to be temporary, so when I was four years old, my mother and I moved back to Iraq, waiting for my father to finish his studies so that he could join us.
In 1990, as the tensions rose between the US and Iraq, my father called and said we must leave immediately because the borders would be shutting down. When my mother and I arrived in San Francisco, I did not recognize the man before me as my father. The borders closed the following week - it was the start of Operation Desert Storm and we were never to live in Iraq again.
"Shadow of Paradise" is comprised of 97 photographs depicting my family who are alive, dead, or missing in Iraq. As an Iraqi immigrant displaced, and living in the United States, this project is dear to my heart as I come to terms with the country I grew up in being slowly eroded and redacted from history. My hometown, Mosul, is the epicenter of the Islamic State, commonly referred to in mass media as ISIS.
The photographs began from a tiny image posted on the Internet. Imagery has been appropriated from Instagram for photos of my uncles and cousins, brothers and sisters, as I blindly search for accounts bearing my last name. Unearthing images of my family through social media as an act of ethnoarcheology gives me hope that these young girls still live on as my beautiful cousins who adored Barbie dolls and Disney princesses when we lived in Iraq. I do not believe their fathers and brothers were so lucky to survive. In each photo, the male figure and background setting is void of color - as a symbol of anonymity as well as annihilation. I digitally manipulate the details on the female figures depicted in the photographs, breathing color and life back into their visages.
I am connected by blood to these people, and if these accounts do not belong to the specific family I remember, it is irrelevant. Before the memories of my loved ones fade, I have constructed "Shadow of Paradise" as a photo album capturing the obscured image of the fragile life that exists in Iraq.
I have currently self-published the book - comprising 183 pages, hardcover, linen bound in a limited edition print. Copies are printed by request and include a hand painted image from the book.