Al-Radi, Nuha 1941-2004

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Al-Radi, Nuha 1941-2004

PERSONAL: Born 1941, in Baghdad, Iraq; died of leukemia August 30, 2004, in Beirut, Lebanon; daughter of Suad Munir Abbas (an Iraqi ambassador). Education: Attended Byam Shaw School of Art, London, England (ceramics), in late 1950s and early 1960s.

CAREER: Ceramic artist and author. American University, Beirut, Lebanon, instructor, 1960s; government of Iraq, Baghdad, commissions for large ceramic tableaus. Exhibitions: Solo exhibitions include "Embargo Art," Amman Jordan, 1990.

WRITINGS:

Baghdad Diaries, Saqi Books (London, England), 1998, revised edition published as Baghdad Diaries: A Woman's Chronicle of War and Exile, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to periodicals, including Granta.

SIDELIGHTS: Nuha al-Radi was an Iraqi artist whose book Baghdad Diaries: A Woman's Chronicle of War and Exile, provides details of life in her native Baghdad during the 1991 Persian Gulf War as well as under the years of sanctions that followed. Al-Radi was born in Baghdad in 1941 but spent a formative decade of her youth in both Iran and India where her father was Iraqi ambassador. International in outlook and education, al-Radi also studied art in London before returning to the Middle East, settling first in Beirut, Lebanon, and then in Baghdad. Such an outlook informed both her art and writing.

As an artist, al-Radi was known for her ceramic murals that decorated numerous government buildings in Baghdad, including one of Saddam Hussein's palaces. One such piece is a depiction of the magic carpet from 1,001 Nights, which hung on a government building that faced the Iranian Embassy. During the years of the Iraq-Iran War, this mural was thus off limits to Iraqis, as was her work for Hussein's palace. As Mary Rourke noted in a Los Angeles Times obituary of the artist, who died of leukemia in 2004, "It was Radi's unfortunate distinction to spend much of her life dodging wars and coups in the Middle East."

Though she began as a ceramicist, she turned to painting and then to sculpture. After the Persian Gulf War, al-Radi began using the actual artifacts of war to make art, turning pieces of shrapnel into sculptures. One piece, Daffy Duck, was created from an exploded shell. She termed such pieces eco-sculpture. "Critics," noted George Montgomery in Middle East, "regard her as excitingly versatile."

In the West al-Radi is best known for her memoir, Baghdad Diaries, in which she presents her perspective on how war affects the common person. Al-Radi paints a visual portrait of her city under the bombing siege led by the Western powers in an effort to turn back Hussein's aggression in Kuwait. During those hard months of pre-war and war as a result of Hussein's provocations, urban Iraqis lost electricity and Baghdad was turned into a city where stray dogs roamed the streets in packs. Amid this disorder, al-Radi worked on her art and tried to share social occasions with friends, while voicing criticism regarding the role the United States played in the bombardment and the subsequent civilian deaths.

After the 1991 war, al-Radi lived a life of semi-exile, moving from Lebanon to Jordan to New York and London and several points in between, but details the effects sanctions had on the common people remaining in Iraq during those post-war years.

Originally published in England in 1998, al-Radi's book was updated for a 2003 edition produced in reaction to the American-led invasion of Iraq that year.

Response to al-Radi's chronicle was positive among those who shared her views. A reviewer for the Ecologist, for example, found the 2003 edition "a warm and human close up of a civilized, but brutally treated people." A contributor for Publishers Weekly also felt that Radi "touchingly portrays the Iraqi plight." However this same reviewer complained that the author did not examine the context of the war, that is Hussein's original aggression which instigated it. "In her eagerness to cast blame," this contributor wrote, "[Radi] loses sight of the bigger picture." However, Andrew Cockburn, reviewing the book in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, stated: "Part of the power of this marvelous chronicle is in the juxtaposition of precise details of ordinary life with a reminder that her existence and that of everyone around her is anything but ordinary."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

al-Radi, Nuha, Baghdad Diaries, Saqi Books (London, England), 1998.

PERIODICALS

Arab American News, October 6, 1995, "Iraqi Artists Turn to Trash to Express Themselves," p. 2.

Ecologist, May, 2003, review of Baghdad Diaries: A Woman's Chronicle of War and Exile, p. 61.

Kliatt, September, 2003, Penelope Power, review of Baghdad Diaries, p. 32.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 17, 2003, Andrew Cockburn, review of Baghdad Diaries, p. R7.

Middle East, March, 2000, George Montgomery, "From the Bombs and the Bullets," p. 50.

Publishers Weekly, May 5, 2003, review of Baghdad Diaries, p. 216.

OBITUARIES

PERIODICALS

America's Intelligence Wire, September 7, 2004, Hussein Dakroub, "Painter, 'Baghdad Diaries' Author Nuha al-Radi Dies in Beirut."

Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2004, Mary Rourke, "Nuha Radi, 63; Artist's Baghdad Diaries Chronicled Life in Wartime," p. B9.

New York Times, September 7, 2004, Neil MacFarquhar, "Nuha al-Radi, Iraqi Artist and Chronicler, Dies at 63," p. A25.

Washington Post, September 9, 2004, "Artist Nuha al-Radi; Wrote 'Baghdad Diaries,'" p. B6.

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Laila Alarian, "Nuha al-Radi," p. 95.

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