Artist uses Iraq refugees, war vet­er­ans in ra­dio project

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

In 2016, an Iraqi-Amer­i­can artist sat down with Bah­jat Ab­dul­wa­hed - the so-called "Walter Cronkite of Bagh­dad" - with the idea of launch­ing a ra­dio project that would be part doc­u­men­tary, part ra­dio play and part va­ri­ety show. Ab­dul­wa­hed was the voice of Iraqi ra­dio from the late 1950s to the early 1990s, but came to Philadel­phia as a refugee in 2009 af­ter re­ceiv­ing death threats from in­sur­gents. "He rep­re­sented au­thor­ity and re­spectabil­ity in re­la­tion­ship to the news through many dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal changes," said El­iz­a­beth Thomas, cu­ra­tor of "Ra­dio Si­lence," a public art piece that re­sulted from the meet­ing with Ab­dul­wa­hed.

Thomas had in­vited artist Michael Rakowitz to Philadel­phia to cre­ate a project for Mu­ral Arts Philadel­phia, which has been ex­pand­ing its public art reach from mu­rals into new and in­no­va­tive spa­ces. Af­ter nearly five years of re­search, Rakowitz dis­tilled his project into a ra­dio broad­cast that would in­volve putting the vi­va­cious and caramel-voiced Ab­dul­wa­hed back on the air, and us­ing Philadel­phia-area Iraqi refugees and lo­cal Iraq war vet­er­ans as his field re­porters. It would fea­ture Iraqi mu­sic, re­mem­brances of the coun­try and vin­tage weather re­ports from a hap­pier time in Iraq.

"One of the many ini­tial ti­tles was "Desert Home Com­pan­ion," Rakowitz said, riff­ing on "A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion," the ra­dio va­ri­ety show cre­ated by Gar­ri­son Keil­lor. Rakowitz recorded an ini­tial and very in­for­mal ses­sion with Ab­dul­wa­hed in his liv­ing room in Jan­uary 2016. Two weeks later, Ab­dul­wa­hed col­lapsed. He had to have an emer­gency tra­cheostomy and was on life sup­port un­til he died seven months later.

At Ab­dul­wa­hed's fu­neral, his friends urged Rakowitz to con­tinue with the project, to show how much of the coun­try they left be­hind was slip­ping away and to help fight cul­tural am­ne­sia. Rakowitz re­cal­i­brated the project, which be­came "Ra­dio Si­lence," a 10-part ra­dio broad­cast with each episode fo­cus­ing on a syn­onym of si­lence, in homage to Ab­dul­wa­hed. "The voice of Bagh­dad had lost his voice," Rakowitz said, call­ing him a "nar­ra­tor of Iraq's his­tory." It will be hosted by Rakowitz and fea­tures frag­ments of that first record­ing ses­sion with Ab­dul­wa­hed, as well as in­ter­views with his wife and other Iraqi refugees liv­ing in Philadel­phia.

Ex­change ideas

Rakowitz and Thomas also worked with War­rior Writ­ers, a non­profit based in Philadel­phia that helps war vet­er­ans work through their ex­pe­ri­ences us­ing writ­ing and art. The first episode, on speech­less­ness, will launch Aug 6 is. It will be broad­cast on com­mu­nity ra­dio sta­tions across the coun­try through Prometheus Ra­dio Project. One par­tic­i­pant is Jawad Al Amiri, an Iraqi refugee who came to the United States in the 1980s. He said si­lence in Iraq has been a way of life for many decades.

"Si­lence is a way of sur­vival. Si­lence is a de­cree by the Baath regime, not to tell what you see in front of your eyes. Si­lence is syn­ony­mous with fear. If you tell, you will be put through agony," he said at a pre­view Tues­day of the live broad­cast. He said he saw his own sis­ter poi­soned and die and wasn't al­lowed to speak of it.

When he came to the US in 1981, his fa­ther told him: "We send you here for ed­u­ca­tion and to speak for the mil­lions of Iraqis in the land where free­dom of speech is prac­ticed." Lawrence David­son is an Army vet­eran who served dur­ing the Iraq War and works with War­rior Writ­ers also con­trib­uted to the project. He said the project is a place to ex­change ideas and hon­estly share feel­ings with refugees and other vet­er­ans. The project kicks off on July 29 with a live broad­cast per­for­mance on Philadel­phia's In­de­pen­dence Mall - what Rakowitz calls the sym­bolic home of Amer­i­can democ­racy. It will fea­ture sto­ry­telling, food from refugees and dis­cus­sions from the vet­er­ans with War­rior Writ­ers. — AP

File photo shows Iraqi- Amer­i­can artist Michael Rakowitz poses for the me­dia at the Na­tional Gallery in Lon­don. — AP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.