A child's view of the Iraq war
Thursday, 16-Oct-2003 7:26AM PDT
Story from AFP / Giles Hewitt
Copyright 2003 by Agence France-Presse (via ClariNet)
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NEW YORK, Oct 16 (AFP) - The Tigris River running red with blood, a military plane dropping a key of freedom on Iraq and a child asking, "Where is my father?"
All three images form part of an exhibition currently showing in New York of drawings by Iraqi schoolchildren who witnessed the US-led military assault on Baghdad.
Made by pupils at the Iraqi capital's Al Assail primary school in June, one month after President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq, the drawings bring a child's sensibility to bear on the human impact of the US "shock and awe" bombing campaign.
The results, while dominated by images of destruction, offer a surprisingly diverse perspective, including tableaux that are clearly both pro- and anti-US.
One drawing shows a helicopter gunship and a tank firing on a sunny, tree-lined meadow above which are written the words "We Are Not Gilty" (sic), while another shows a rainbow linking two smiling faces above the US and Iraqi flags.
Some bear the imprint of propaganda, including tanks with Star of David markings firing as they move through the streets of Baghdad.
One of the most striking simply shows a river marked "Tigris" running red under two dark clouds.
"This is the children of Baghdad speaking, ... voices that were never heard here because of the skewed media coverage of the war," said Carl Rosenstein, owner and curator of Lower Manhattan's Puffin Room gallery.
Rosenstein came up with the idea for the exhibition while talking with independent filmmaker Patrick Dillon, who had been in Baghdad before the war and through the first week of bombing before being expelled by the Iraqi authorities.
When Dillon said he planned to return to Iraq, Rosenstein commissioned him to get Iraqi schoolchildren to draw their memories of the war, providing him with crayons, markers and other materials which would be in short supply.
"I agreed, although I really had no idea how I would go about it," said Dillon, adding that Baghdad was in complete chaos when he returned in May.
Using an Iraqi filmmaker acquaintance as a go-between, Dillon approached teachers at the Al Assail primary school when it reopened in early June but met some initial resistance to the project.
"They were enthusiastic about the idea, but there was also a lot of concern about letting the children document anything at all," he said.
"I think it was really the legacy of years of knowing that what you say or write can get you into serious trouble.
"They were worried that someone, somewhere, including the American authorities, might take exception to the drawings and that there might be repercussions."
Over a one-month period, Dillon collected around 76 drawings that went on view at the Puffin Room at the end of September in an exhibition entitled "Shocked and Awed."
"It took time, but in the end the concerns were outweighed by the teachers' obvious excitement at the potential for communicating directly with people in America," Dillon said.
Some of the drawings display remarkably polarised perspectives on the US invasion.
While one shows a US helicopter spraying water onto wilted flowers under the slogan "Yes Boosh, No Sadam" (sic), another shows a cropless field, empty but for a missile, an army boot and a helmet and the question "Where's the water?"