2015/ 2016

Saleem Al-Bahloly

The Freedom of Despair: Art and Politics in Baghdad, 1963-1979

Previous Fellowships: 2014/ 2015

Saleem Al-Bahloly is a cultural anthropologist whose work focuses on alternative histories of the artwork. He has an AB in Anthropology from the University of Chicago (2005) and a PhD, also in Anthropology, from the University of California, Berkeley (2015). He was a EUME Fellow in the academic year 2014/15 and stays affiliated with EUME in 2015/16, working on a book manuscript based on his dissertation entitled, The Freedom of Despair: Art and Politics in Baghdad, 1963-1979.

2015/ 2016

The Freedom of Despair:  Art and Politics in Baghdad, 1963-1979

The book offers a portrait of art practice in Iraq during the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Its point of departure is the violent aftermath of a coup by the Ba’ath Party in 1963, when the persecution of leftists radically foreclosed possibilities for political action and expression. The book examines new forms of art practice that emerged in response to those conditions, and traces their evolution in relation to the subsequent trajectory of leftist politics in Iraq. In telling a story about art practice in Baghdad, The Freedom of Despair attempts to recover a lost chapter in the political history of the Arab world with which that practice was intertwined.  Following the collapse offorms of liberal politics in 1963, leftists in Iraq rediscovered politics in the form of the anticolonial liberation struggle introduced by the Palestinian liberation movement.  Very quickly, however, that struggle too began to collapse, and as it did the artwork emerged as the site of a certain kind of critique.  In providing an account of that critique and its formulation in the artwork, The Freedom of Despair not only details the ways in which art practice was shaped by the limits of both liberal and anticolonial forms of political action, but also shows how it was able to transcend those limits by offering the possibility of a different kind of speech, one bound up with a different kind of action.

2014/ 2015

The Practice of Art and the Critique of Statelessness in the Middle East, 1967-1982

As a EUME Fellow, he is working on revising and expanding his dissertation into a book manuscript. In particular, he is looking at a body of drawings, paintings and prints made by the artist Dia Azzawi on the war in Kurdistan in 1974-75 and on the destruction of Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon in 1970, 1976 and 1982. He is considering this body of work in relation to other representations of those events, notably that of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency  (UNRWA) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. By looking at the practice of art in relation to the humanitarian discourse of care and the juridical discourse of rights, he is exploring the ways in which the formal possibilities of the artwork offered a different way of thinking about and responding to the condition of statelessness.