Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Colors of Warka highlights formerly hidden talent

Artwork in a new exhibit in Washington has travelled a long way: from the imaginations of women in Iraq’s province of Muthanna, who originally had doubts about showing their work publicly.

U.S. and Iraqi officials organized the artists to show their work publicly in 2009 for what was believed to be the first exhibit mounted by female artists in the province.

Coordinated in partnership with a local group, “The Colors of Warka” first debuted in January 2009 during then-U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker’s first visit to Muthanna province. At this opening, the Muthanna Provincial Reconstruction Team distributed art supplies to the women in preparation for a larger exhibit, held in March 2009, that toured the three largest cities in Muthanna. Each of the artists was told to feel free to paint whatever she liked — even if it did not flatter the United States.

Today, select works from “The Colors of Warka: Paintings by Iraqi Women of Muthanna Province” are on display at the Department of State in Washington. On March 8, the exhibit was opened with the women who earned the 2010 International Women of Courage awards in attendance.

The annual International Women of Courage Award was started in March 2007 to recognize women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating women’s rights and advancement. This year’s 10 honorees were presented with awards by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on March 10.

It was fitting that Women of Courage winners were present at an event to honor the artists, for courageous is the word that best fits these Iraqis.

In one of Iraq’s most conservative provinces, the artists who participated in this exhibit demonstrated great courage, not only by presenting their work publicly, but by volunteering to be interviewed on television about their paintings. For many, it was the first time they had shown their paintings to anyone outside their homes and for almost all it was the first time they had been interviewed on camera.

The paintings showcase a range of styles and subjects — and do not shy away from challenges presented in Iraqi daily life.

As an Iraqi female painter said at the time of the exhibition’s opening in Iraq, “Through our paintings, everyone will know our stories. They will know we are here.”

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