interviewed by Predrag Pajdic, December 2006

What is the driving force behind your work?

The pain.

Could you explain?

It is the pain of being accused of being 'the other' outside home.
It is the pain of my failure to be a citizen for the second time.
It is the pain that occurred within the falling of the slogans of the free world that barbarically invaded Iraq.

You were born in Iraq but now live and work in Amsterdam. Can you talk about that?

I thought, before crossing the borders of Iraq in August 1991, "where ever I step, it will be my home". I moved to Jordan for one year, and then to Tunisia for one and half years, but since arriving in the Netherlands I've felt that I am carrying an illusion even though I've been working intensively to prove to myself that I'm wrong and that there is a chance to be a citizen. Then I ended up being Neitherlander, which I declared in posters that were hung on many billboards in Maastricht in 2002. The poster is an image depicting my back wearing a jacket inside out with a label reading "Neitherlander". The subtitle of this poster project was 'I have to explain!'

How would you explain that since I'm living and working in the Netherlands I'm mainly invited to participate in ethnic group exhibitions. In 1999 I had a conversation with a gallery owner in Amsterdam. One of my questions was about his conditions for representing an artist in his gallery. He said "I only represent Dutch artists". I asked him, "will I be welcome to show my works in your gallery in the near future, as within a couple of months I'll get a Dutch passport? That was the end of the conversation.

In 2001 I was interviewed about the censorship measurements in Iraq? I responded that the censorship was imposed everywhere but the measurements are set, or depend, on each country's circumstances. We can see how the free world tuned the censorship after what it called "September the 11th". Two art projects of mine had provoked suspicions in the Dutch and German Intelligence Offices.

Many artists have told me that a sense of displacement plays a significant part in their creative process. Is this the case in your work?

I used to interpret replacement as a field where one could test and extend ones knowledge sources and being open for new influences. Not to be holed up in a quarantine room.

After a couple of years living and practicing art in Amsterdam, it was clear to me that the Dutch art institutions have two shelves for 'the others' to present their art. One to demonstrate 'art from another world/kunst uit een andere wereld'. Two, as a 'contemporary' artist deals with the actual political situation in their homeland. This recent temporary, contemporary shelf/display window is appearing and disappearing depending on the political situations in the Middle East. The growing interest in presenting Middle East art and artists in the Western venues arose sometime after the collapse of the Berlin wall, and the arising of what it called "fundamentalist Islamic movements" which are represented as the new enemy to the free world. These synchronous replacements of the interests of western cultural and art institutes from supporting and focusing on art/artists from Eastern Europe to art/artists from 'Islamic' countries demonstrate, quite evidently, that these institutions have never been interested in the others' art/culture but rather in fulfilling the political agenda of their governments. The West's policy and attitude have never changed since the Christian missions to overseas lands, which have become funds and culture centers to suit today's demands. The most critical agenda in the Middle East since the mid-nineties, is that these funds and culture centers are gradually playing the role of the patron to support the 'alternative' cultural practice in the region. This is happing because of the suspended relation between the cultural practitioners and the national cultural institutes, which withered during decades of dictatorships in that region on the one hand and the globalizing demands that forces these regimes to open the borders for western institutes' investments on the other. I'm afraid that within a short time that we have had to gain the recognition of the Western institutes to be able to be re-presented in our national institutes. If we read deeply into to the actual cultural scene in the Middle East we will figure out the critical situation that we are facing.

A guest in Frankfurt's book fair 2004 raised questions which have not yet been answered concerning the organization of representation structures of the Arab world. Recently I met an artist from the region who had applied for an artist residency program in the USA. He gave the names of three national experts on the application form, which demands three references, but the institute ignored these names and asked instead for the reference from a Western curator working in that country.

I don't deny the acts of some individuals and small institutes whom have different motivations. They could lack the attention to have a real constructive dialogue and exchange among each other. Even this is employed by the policy makers to serve and stress the notion of the free market 'there is more than one kind of cheese on the shelf'.

In your project 'Beauty of Resistance' you showed a series of photographs in addition to a written statement projecting your profile. There you wrote:

"After three years of working in this imposed territory, I realized that I'm polishing this imposed label instead of getting the attention to this critical agenda to marginalization and sizing the role of the immigrant artists. I'm forced to play the role of an oriental artist (traditional or contemporary version) in order to gain the Western institutes' recognition and suiting the cultural globalization demands."

How do you avoid such oriental or exotic representation?

There is no way to avoid it, it is a blind tunnel. Whatever you do, you will be seen through predetermined preconception. After ten years of living in Western Europe I discovered that I was addressing myself.

Ironically we were considered in Iraq to be the few artists and art critics with Western approaches, and in the West we are considered to be Iraqi artists. That's how I failed to be a citizen for the second time.
If you re-view the timing, setting and content of exhibitions and forums, and the gender of the participants of what are considered to have been representations of contemporary art from the Middle East you'll easily extract the motivations behind.

You are currently in Spain. Are you there on a tourist trip?

I have struggled for years against the brutal regime in Iraq. I have been arrested and tortured several times since I was 16 years old, and now I want to serve the Western institutes agenda voluntarily. Therefore I decided to be a tourist, where I feel I'm not able to create another illusion.

What are you working on at present?

I wrote recently a draft version of a project I have been thinking about for a couple of months titled '10 years living in Europe, but before saying yes to dictatorship'. The work should be carried out in non-public and public spaces, preferably without permission. I know it's quite difficult, especially now when every off-white/Muslim person is considered to be a mobile bomb! Ironically most Muslims are living under the threat of the smart weapons of the merciful, free world.

The spaces will be chosen at the Dazed Gallery, Tate Modern and Contemporary Art Platform and or along the roads in their neighbourhoods. By the way, I have no idea where these places are located and the nature of the areas. I have been in London once in 1998.