‘Forbidden Art’ is revealed to the Triad
Hand-carried straight from Mosul, Iraq, “The Forbidden Art Exhibit” will be shared in the United States for the first time on Sept. 17 for one night only. The exhibition is curated by Restore Iraq, the 501 (c)(3) nonprofit American brand of Strategic Development for Relief and Education (SDRE), according to a video on its website. The exhibition is open to the public from 7 to 9 p.m. at The Barn in Winston-Salem’s Reynolda Village. Attendees can experience the heart of eight artists across four mediums. There will be wine, hors d’oeuvres and a live auction of once forbidden works of art acquired through a partnership with Mosul University’s Fine Arts Department, where all of the artists were either students or professors. According to the website, this fundraising event will help restore the dreams of orphans and their families through art therapy and other work in Mosul. The fundraiser is $75, and the dress code is cocktail attire.
Out-of-state bidders may purchase one of just a few remote tickets online before Sept. 10 for $25 and receive an art brochure before the event. Event volunteers will call each remote bidder when the bidding starts and stay on the phone as they bid against those at the auction.
Neil Broere, programs director of Restore Iraq and his wife, Lindsey, grew up in High Point and Thomasville. Lindsey, Neil, and their four children are part of a team that has lived and worked in Iraq for six years. David Popovici and Fabian Grech were the original founders and are still active with the work they started in 2013. When the Broeres first connected with this work, they said it was very challenging, and they didn’t think Iraq was where they would make their home. After visiting, finishing school and returning to see the damage done by ISIS, “We saw the need to be the light in a dark place,” Neil said. “We knew we wanted to go back and [we] moved there in January 2016. We believe that there is evil in the world not so much because bad men continue to do bad things, but because good men do nothing.”
Neil said that words such as “Iraq,” “ISIS,” and the “Middle East” inspire fear in some from the Western world. He said the fear “paralyzes good people from making an impact in a part of the world that desperately needs it.”
“If it isn’t fear that stops the impact a person can have, it’s the commitment many have to build their own kingdom,” he added. “These kingdom builders are desperately needed in places where the lives of others are crumbling.”
Neil said one of Restore Iraq’s programs serves “fatherless children born from women who were raped” and “widows who find themselves in impossible situations.” He said these women in Mosul have a difficult time rebuilding and need outside help and guidance.
“We do this by providing the essentials (such as food and clothing), all the while empowering them with skills and training that will also allow them to contribute to their community,” Neil said. “Our goal is to raise $25,000 to fund our work with the widows and the women who are caring for orphans who have lost both of their parents. If we had unlimited sources, we’d help thousands more in need.”
Creating art in ISIS-controlled Mosul was forbidden from June 2014 until the official declaration of victory was proclaimed on July 17, 2017.
“The Forbidden Art Exhibit” features artists who hid in their basements and closets for three years to reclaim their creativity through drawing, painting and sculpting during a time when they could have been tortured and killed.
“It’s pretty fascinating to learn that there was an art department at Mosul [University] before ISIS took over and turned a house of creativity into a house of destruction to build bombs and make bullets,” Neil said. “Afterward, the artists came back and replaced the bombs and bullets with brushes and easels.”
The first piece that the Broeres saw and knew they had to have for the exhibit was by Ahmed al Jalili, a fourth-year student at Mosul University. Neil said his self-portrait “The Palette” was painted on the same palette he painted on for those three years and expressed his sadness wearing the traditional ISIS-enforced clothing and full beard.
Zubaida, the only female artist in the group, has three paintings: one of a young girl from a refugee camp, one of an older man from a refugee camp and one of her mother.
“When we first discovered this sweet, gentle and young artist to be so amazingly talented, her Van Gogh-like painting jumped out at us,” he added.
Abdullah Mustafa painted “The Red Lady,” which was shown to the Broeres by his wife, who works in the fine arts department. Neil said she told them, without asking her husband, “I want to give you his paintings for free because I want to help you.”
Muhammad Nahad sculpted “Woman Holding the Scarf,” which Neil said came from “a place of the forbidden to an opening of artistic expression that best represents what these artists have created.”
Neil said Dr. Qais Ibrahim Mustafa is a well-respected sculptor and the head of the sculpture department at Mosul University School of Fine Arts. He extracted large metal nails from ancient doors that were blown up and secretly melted, bent and shaped the nails into sculptures in his basement. His four pieces are called “Sadness,” “Exodus,” “Joy,” and “Motion.”
“Artists not creating is like not breathing, you just can’t not do it,” Mustafa said to Neil. “It’s who we are.”
Neil said Omer Qais, the marble sculptor of “The Teardrop,” worked silently alongside his father to create a massive 20-foot tall sculpture, which now resides in the center of Mosul’s city square.
Painter and collage artist Muhammad Dhanoon Alzubaidi’s work has been shown all around the globe. Neil said two paintings of “The Bird and the Boat” depict a young boy holding a paper boat on a stick to express the wants of the children and their creative desires to give hope to their dreams.
Neil said that the sculptor, Zeko, is a champion bodybuilder and “a big, strong man who works with iron and swinging hammers, but speaks with a humble gentleness.” His sculpture depicts a small child’s hand reaching out to a larger, adult hand representing one generation pulling up another, but it will not be represented in the auction.
“We are still trying to figure out what to do with this piece,” Neil said. “Zeko is an amazing artist who did this very quickly, but he didn’t have time to fully execute this sculpture, so it isn’t as high a standard of quality as the rest of the work to be bidded on.”
Those interested in sponsoring The Forbidden Art Exhibition may choose from a Silver, Gold, Platinum or Signature sponsorship level for a multiple-ticket package that includes exposure to a socially-engaged audience along with other amenities, which may be viewed and purchased online.
Neil said volunteers are still needed to serve Iraqi orphans by working at the exhibit, and that volunteers will receive free admission.
“We intend to do all that we can to rebuild, replant and redeem all that has been destroyed on both sides of the Tigris River,” he said. “Iraq needs your help more than ever before, and I am inviting you to partner with any one of our projects, including The Widow’s Storehouse located on the Westside. We adopted 29 widows and 40 orphans to show them that they weren’t alone, and they were loved in our nine-week pilot program.”
Neil said that the project is now moving into phase two and that the organization has a long-term vision of having its own orphanage called “Restoration Village” that will meet the needs of children, and help empower small business to rebuild projects and get back to work.
“Our Youth Center on the Eastside, which wasn’t destroyed as much as the Westside, teaches nutritional and physical fitness along with emotional wellbeing and healing,” Neil said. “Instead of letting emotions turn into anger that is justifiable from losing their family, we teach them how to forgive and move forward.”
The exhibit will also fund afterschool art therapy classes for 35 orphans.
“We don’t just put paintbrushes in their hands; the overall vision is to love these kids well, whether with food and clothing or by walking them through the process of grieving and to identify and nurture the gift within them,” he added. “The overall vision for the event is to be a bridge for the restoration in Iraq and the Middle East to those in the West. If this is happening in a place like Mosul, it can happen in Winston-Salem. A healing redemption can happen anywhere with love.”
TERRY RADER is a freelance writer, poet, singer/songwriter, wellness consultant/herbalist, flower essences practitioner for pets and people and owner of Paws n’ Peace o’ Mind cat/dog/house sitting.
Wanna go? Sept. 17 from 7-9 p.m., “The Forbidden Art Exhibit,” The Barn at Reynolda Village, 106 Reynolda Village, Winston-Salem, (336) 758-2276. Tickets are $75, and the dress code is cocktail attire, remote tickets are $25 and must be purchased online before Sept. 10. See sponsorship levels and buy tickets at www.restoreiraq.org. For more information, call Kaitlin Pena at (803) 389-4163 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Videos: https://vimeo.com/339305487, https://vimeo.com/339306930, https://vimeo.com340918744.