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[casi-analysis] Guardian Unlimited: Nuha al-Radi

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Colin Rowat spotted this on the Guardian Unlimited site and thought you should see it.

Note from Colin Rowat:

Dear list members,

A number of you know of Nuha's Baghdad Diaries.  For myself, and a number of other non-Iraqis, 
these provided an oddly rare account of human life in Baghdad - a vibrant contrast to much of the 
darker accounts to which we had grown familiar.

To see this story with its related links on the Guardian Unlimited site, go to

Nuha al-Radi
Versatile artist and diarist committed to her beloved Iraq
Julie Flint
Tuesday September 07 2004
The Guardian

"I must say that, as occupiers, the US are a most inefficient lot," the Iraqi artist Nuha al-Radi, 
who has died aged 63, wrote early last year. "Since we are to learn the American way of life, and 
suing is a hundred per cent of it, we should start suing the US and the coalition for making war 
under false pretences. I don't think the Americans have a clue about this country or what to do 
with it."

In recent months, Nuha also talked, semi-seriously, of suing for the leukaemia that killed her - 
leukaemia that she thought might be connected to the hundreds of tonnes of depleted uranium the 
allies fired at Iraqi tanks during the 1991 war. She felt she would be speaking for all Iraqis who 
linked their cancers to the radioactive particles and toxins that were exploded into their 
environment, and from there, she argued, into the water table and food chain.

As an artist, Nuha was as versatile as she was talented. Over the years, her ceramics, sculptures 
and paintings were shown throughout the Arab world and in the west, and exhibited in collections, 
including the British Museum. But it was as a critic of sanctions, war and occupation - 
"humiliation" - that she found unexpected celebrity, publishing her Baghdad Diary in the literary 
magazine Granta in 1992 and a book, Baghdad Diaries, in 1998.

Whatever medium she was using, Nuha drew on the people, events and materials around her. She 
depicted moods and events - in clear, crisp colours in her art, and devastating detail in her 
diaries. She preferred the personal to the political and humour to ranting, although she could rant 
with the best of them when the mood took her - not only about the allies but about "the muddled 
east" and the failure of Arabs "to learn the meaning of 'unity' or 'initiative'".

Thus when Saddam Hussein decreed that graduates could import cars duty free, and intellectuals 
began driving Mercedes, Nuha held an exhibition of sculpture in Baghdad that had only two 
components, cars and brains. Model Mercedes had brains oozing from their windows; brains flew 
Mercedes flags. When the invasion of Iraq began, she exhibited her Embargo Art - rows of figures 
made from recycled wood, painted and decked out in feathers and other defiant finery. "They look as 
if they are demonstrating," she wrote. "Hopefully, we will recycle ourselves and survive."

Ian Jack, the current editor of Granta, said that the periodical had no hesitation in publishing 
Nuha's first manuscript: "Her diaries were direct, witty, humane, so that you saw large things, 
like wars and occupations, intimately. Good diarists are rarer than many people imagine. The 
temptation for the diarist is to inflate himself or herself, to over-write, to have Big Thoughts. 
Nuha persuaded you by her matter-of-factness. Like most good writing, it is beautifully specific - 
a record of cake-making and flower-tending as well as of a blitz."

Born in Baghdad, Nuha spent most of her childhood in India, where her father was ambassador. He 
retired when the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown in 1958, and the family returned to Baghdad. In 
1961, Nuha moved to London to study ceramics at the Byam Shaw School of Art and work with the 
Chelsea Pottery.

Her parents moved to Beirut in 1969 after the Ba'ath party seized power in Iraq. She   enrolled in 
liberal arts at the American University of Beirut and, in 1971, began teaching there. When the 
Lebanese civil war erupted in 1975, she returned to Baghdad. It was the beginning of 30 years spent 
shuttling, "trying to avoid coups and wars".

Beirut was, for Nuha, "the perfect place for political exiles", a place where "the right to 
grumble" had not been banned, and where she was happiest. She loved the city's mix of people, the 
ease of life, the stray cats she nurtured but never attempted to domesticate. Friendship was 
perhaps her greatest gift, and her house was seldom empty.

Gardening was a passion: when she felt aggressive, she cut and pruned; when she felt hopeful, she 
planted. But even Nuha could not make flowers bloom on her windy, sea-facing balcony, a narrow 
strip so different from her beloved palm orchard in Baghdad.

Nuha was buried in Beirut's pine forest, lying in a bed of jasmine and with flowers, her favourite 
adornment, in her irrepressible hair. She is survived by her mother Suad, brother Abbad, sister 
Selma and aunt Naira.

· Nuha al-Radi, artist and diarist, born January 27 1941; died August 31 2004

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

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