Madonna of Baghdad

 

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Madonna of Baghdad, 30x90cm, 2009. Pastels and collage on brown paper.

When I was a teenager I was a fan of National Geographic photography. I imagined myself as an adult with a camera in hands among the ruins of Angkor or the African lions. When I was eighteen my family gave me a book with the most famous National Geographic pictures of all times. It showed the most famous portrait of all on the front cover, The Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry. The picture was taken in 1984 in a refugee camp in Peshawar and would have its epic story. Seventeen years after, Steve McCurry left for a new expedition in Afghanistan in order to find that face now become the symbol of the Afghan wars of the eighties.

Steve McCrurry, The Afghan Girl

Steve McCrurry, The Afghan Girl

Because of some mysterious reason, my drawing is linked to that story. In March 2003 the U.S. and Great Britain attacked Iraq. During the following days the capital underwent what would have been remembered as the Battle of Baghdad. The TV captures of that night bombings remained with us for several years. The missiles fell down like gigantic stars on a city completely enveloped in the night. High columns of black smoke rose up from the ground.

Later I had this vision; the shade of a majestic architecture, the gate of an Eastern town swallowed by the dark. Then a flash – perhaps the light of an explosion or the flash of a camera – illuminated a young woman. She was in front of the vault and the light had surprised her while she was escaping. She carried a bundle, perhaps a child. The long clothing trailed behind. Everything happened in nothing more than an instant, she stopped and looked at me. Then disappeared in the dark.

I thought a lot over that gaze. I had strange words in my hands, “draw me”. Then six years passed until – on a winter day – I drawed Madonna of Baghdad. I made her as she asked me, not dismayed but timidly beautiful.

When I look at her now I am sure about this. She is somewhere in space and time. She is a part of myself which has been bombed and survived. She is my version of The Afghan Girl.

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