interviewed by Predrag Pajdic, February 2007

I came across your work for the first time in 'Presidency', an exhibition at Exit Art, New York in 2004. You showed your video 'The Thief of Bagdad' and I felt pleasantly surprised to see such work at such a time, during the USA elections. Please tell me how did you come up with such an idea? What is the work really about?

I started working on 'The Thief of Bagdad' in the spring of 2003 shortly after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. I wanted to respond by making a video with an anti-war message.

The Bush administration's actions and rhetoric seemed calculated to follow the stereotypical Hollywood plot line of good American versus evil Arab.  In post 9/11 politics, not much separates movie fiction from political theater; the same heroic formula appears to operate in both spheres.  I've been working with found footage for many years, so it seemed natural to sample and remix Hollywood Orientalist films for this video.

I chose to work with the 1940 'Thief of Bagdad' because the title worked so well in this new context, and because this Technicolor fantasy film mirrors the unreality of a scripted, stage-managed, high tech war. I borrowed from heroic cowboy adventure films like 'The Yellow Rose of Texas' and romantic films about colonial history like 'Khartoum' to weave together a retelling of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

When I saw it, I thought it was a very brave move, as at that time it was almost impossible to hear any voice in the States opposing the war with Iraq. How was the work received when shown for the first time in the USA?

I was one of many voices speaking out against the war. We just weren't being heard because there was little to no media coverage. If it's not reported, then it must not have happened. I attended huge protests in New York and Washington, DC and they were barely mentioned in the US press, so of course you didn't hear about it either. 

I made 'The Thief of Bagdad' for a show at Jessica Murray Projects in NY called 'Hard Times'. The show was positively received, and there was quite a bit of interest in the video following the exhibition. It screened at the Berlin Film Festival and was broadcast on Free Speech TV in the US (www.freespeech.org).

How is the Middle East portrayed in the USA? Do people know what is really going on in Iraq?

The media coverage of the Middle East is predictably biased and oversimplified.  Mainstream news outlets continue to support the US war effort in Iraq despite growing public dissent. Many Americans get their (mis)information from such conservative sources as Fox News, so they are not exactly getting a 'fair and balanced' picture of the Middle East.