Following claims that Saddam Hussein’s regime was concealing weapons of mass destruction, the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, overthrowing the regime. The occupation of the country and measures taken by the transitional government fuelled an insurgency and led to widespread sectarian violence. The security situation deteriorated dramatically, with suicide bombings, car bombs, and other explosions of uncontrolled violence becoming commonplace as state structures and services crumbled. The chaos gave fundamentalist militant groups a foothold in Iraq, unleashing even more suffering. As a result, an estimated 9.2 million Iraqis are internally displaced or refugees.
One of those who saw her life turned upside down is Hanaa Malallah, an Iraqi artist, researcher and educator.
Born in 1958 in south-eastern Iraq, Malallah pursued her artistic and academic career in Baghdad. After completing her doctoral thesis in 2005, she lectured at the University of Baghdad and became the director of the graphic arts department at Baghdad’s Academy of Fine Arts.
Malallah decided to leave Iraq after being threatened by a fundamentalist militia group, who considered her position as a female professor of art a sacrilege. She settled in London and continues to create and teach between her new home and Beirut.
Malallah is known for her “ruins technique”, which involves disfiguring the objects she works with, evoking the destruction she views as an essential part of the human condition. One of her most expressive works, A Moment of Light (2015), consists of intricate burnt and folded strips of canvas, replicating the effects of violence. From the upper right corner of the work protrudes a glass prism, which, when viewed from a certain angle, reflects the colours of the rainbow. This hints at the potential for light in an otherwise harsh environment—a glimmer of hope that she, of all people, knows well.
Rioghnach studies Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford. She researched and wrote this piece as part of the Oxford University Micro Internship programme.