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New and public database documents missing modern Iraqi art

Nada Shabout, assoc prof of art historyHundreds of lost works of art from the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad are documented in a new database that became publicly accessible in March, thanks to seven years of research led by Nada Shabout, left, associate professor of art history, and a leading expert on modern Iraqi art.

Called the Modern Art Iraq Archive, the database at the Modern Art Iraq Archive website is one of the most comprehensive collections of information about the artworks, many of which disappeared from the museum after lootings and fires following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"This database is only the beginning, as we hope that others will contribute more information that will continue to shed light on modern Iraqi culture," Shabout said. "Few of the lost works of art have been recovered, but having information about them in this database is the next best thing. Otherwise, it's as if they never existed - and a large part of modern Iraqi culture would be lost."

The Modern Art Iraq Archive contains about 700 items, including about 460 artworks and about 230 documents related to the art, including exhibition catalogs, newspapers, magazine and journal articles, personal letters and sketches. Right, a missing work by Widad Al-Orfali.

Missing Iraqi ArtShabout plans to expand the database to include modern Iraqi artworks from the late 19th century to the 1990s - not just those from the museum. The open-access database is designed so that the public can contribute images and information.

Shabout, a former Iraq resident, began her quest for information about the artworks in 2003. She has interviewed artists, museum personnel and gallery owners.

Shabout received two fellowships from the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 to conduct the first phase of data collection. In 2009, she received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Service to create the database, which is a joint effort of UNT, the Alexandria Archive Institute and the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley.

She is co-editor of the book New Vision: Arab Contemporary Art in the 21st Century and the author of Modern Arab Art: Formation of Arab Aesthetics. She earned a Senior Fulbright Scholar grant to teach contemporary Arab art history at the University of Jordan in 2008-09. She is a long-term advisor to Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar, and was a guest curator for two of the museum's inaugural exhibitions in 2010.Shabout also serves as director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Studies Institute.

Posted on: Wed 16 March 2011

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