Cultural Glimpse

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Tag: The Chaldean News

Legendary Iraqi-Born Author and Publisher

 

IMG_7857 (2)I’ve been freelancing for the Chaldean News for about ten years. Oftentimes when I interview people, they’ll ask me, “Is the publisher of this magazine the son of Fouad Manna, otherwise known as Abu Jibran?” I’d say yes and they would then list Abu Jibran’s wonderful qualities and mention his accomplishments and contributions as a writer and publisher. Their descriptions made me want to one day meet him in person.

Well, yesterday I had the honor of doing that. We met at the Chaldean Community Foundation and then taking advantage of the pleasant weather, we walked the short distance to Ishtar Restaurant for lunch. For approximately three hours, this legendary and kind man shared with me some of the most fascinating stories, starting with his childhood.

Fouad Manna was born in 1936 in a Christian village which had 96 homes, 500 residents, and no schools. It was during a time when families easily and naturally shared one big home. In his case, there were three families, each with about seven to eight kids. For the most part, they lived off the land, through agriculture or herding. Everyone worked, even the children. But Manna wanted something else. He wanted to go to school.

“I went up to my mom and said, ‘I want to go to school,’” he said and she and her husband helped fulfill his desire. They registered him in a school that was two miles away in walking distance.

He continued in this educational path, and after graduating, studied journalism for a year. One day a man was pushing a three-wheel cart, selling used books. A book that stood out for Manna was by an author named Khalil Gibran. He was drawn to this book and decided to buy it.

“Reading Gibran’s book mesmerized me,” he said. “I felt an immediate connection with the author. It was as if he knew my thoughts and feelings.”

After that, he searched for more books by Gibran and read each one several times.

At the age of twenty, Manna also began his writing career by working for one of Iraq’s newspapers. This was during the Hashemite Kingdom which he describes as “The best government Iraq ever had. Every government that has come since then has been worse and worse.”

During this period, a writer could write whatever they wanted as long as they did not attack the government. The Kingdom of Iraq was founded on August 21, 1923 under British administration and following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Mesopotamian campaign of World War I. It was established with King Faisal I of the Hashemite dynasty receiving the throne.

After the Hashemite Kingdom’s overthrow on July 14, 1958, the new government closed all the newspapers associated with the Kingdom and arrested the editors-in-chief. Manna eventually continued to write in different papers until 1963, when the Baath Party came into power. They too closed newspapers, but they did something entirely different with the editors-in-chief.

“These people were gone, just disappeared,” said Manna.

This reminded me of the Mural of the Revolution in one of Baghdad’s famous squares. The Mural is located on the other side of where the Freedom Monument stands and it depicts, among other beautiful things, a woman whose hands extend upward as she holds peace doves. In 1963, when the Baath Party began to come into power, they considered certain art dangerous, so they removed the doves and left the woman’s hand empty.

Manna realized that he could not live under this type of government, especially not given his writing profession. “Journalists have to address the negativities of the community, to shed light on it,” he said.

So he prepared to leave for America. He arrived to the United States on January 11, 1969 and he has since then made an incredible legacy for himself and his family. His story is uplifting and the lessons he learned over the decades are full of wisdom, the details of which will be included in the upcoming book, Iraqi Americans: The Lives of the Writers.

Bridging Worlds: The Art of Qais Al-Sindyor

Al Sindy Photo

This article was originally published by the Chaldean News a few days ago. It’s about Qais Al-Sindy, one of the artists in my upcoming book, The Lives of the Artists.  http://www.chaldeannews.com/bridging-worlds-the-art-of-qais-al-sindy/

Chaldean Qais Al-Sindy studied engineering at the University of Baghdad and though he excelled in his classes, he soon discovered that the field was not for him. After graduating, he applied to the Academy of Fine Arts, telling the administration, “If you force me to be a Baathist, I will study outside this country and you will lose me.”

It worked. They made an exception to Al-Sindy’s non-Baathist affiliation and enrolled him. In 2004, he graduated with an MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts. His thesis was on Christian paintings from all over Iraq. This led him to take a big tour of Iraq to visit all the monasteries and different cities from Zakho (in the Kurdisan region) to al-Faw (a marshy region in the extreme southeast of Iraq).

“It was dangerous to travel, especially since I did not have a sponsor,” he said. “I paid from my own pockets and drove my own car. Because I speak English very well, I managed well at American checkpoints. I received harassment from the insurgents and extremists, but at that time, it wasn’t very severe. I managed, but I did leave the country shortly after graduating.”

Al-Sindy, who began painting at age 14, has held art exhibits all over the world. His work has drawn so much attention that six books have been published about it by various venues, including the Kuwait Cultural Center and the Iraqi Cultural Center in Washington, D.C.

“I don’t do anything else in this world except for art,” said Al-Sindy, who resides in California. “If you are able to do the art that you like and find a way to sell it, this means that you believe in yourself.”

Al-Sindy, whose work includes painting, videos and installations of objects designed to make a point, is known to engage audiences in his art. An example of this is the “Mamdooh” series.

“After I left Iraq, I lived in Jordan, where I taught art in the architectural department,” he said. “One day I heard that one of my dearest friends in Iraq, a talented portrait artist named Mamdooh, suffered injuries as a result of a car explosion that injured and killed many people. He was transferred to the hospital where he struggled against death for one week, then died.”

This led Al-Sindy to do a series of four paintings. The first one is a portrait of Mamdooh in an expressionist style that focuses on his appearance. The second is a ghostly figure with transparency like his character, full of hue colors. It is the moment that Mamdooh suffers and dies. In the third painting, he brought some ashes and charcoal from the ruins of the car that exploded and drew Mamdooh using those ashes. That means Mamdooh is gone. The fourth painting is a pure blank canvas.

“Everyone is well aware that it’s prohibited to touch the artwork in galleries and museums,” Al-Sindy said. “But in this, I came up with something new to complete the fourth painting. I asked the viewers to wipe their hands on painting number three. Of course, now their hands are stained with charcoal and ashes. They want to clean their hands, but I ask the crowd to wipe their hands on the blank canvas, on painting number four. The fingerprints on the canvas mean that you’re a participant of this crime in Iraq.”

Al-Sindy said this was his way of getting his audience to participate in the message he wanted to deliver: It is up to us to make this world the best place to live in.

He showed the series in more than 10 countries and the fourth piece, the blank canvas, is now covered with more than a thousand people’s fingerprints.

“Everyone wants to show that they are responsible for us not having peace in this world,” he said. “The frames are cracked and damaged because they toured many, many countries. I kept it as it is.”

Al-Sindy has also produced an 11-minute documentary about the burning of the Iraqi library called “Letters Don’t Burn.”

His latest project, called “The Bridge,” showcased the work of 47 premier and emerging Arab, Persian and Jewish visual artists around the theme of what “bridges” us to each other. The show opened in Paris in February and has been seen in England, Egypt and other countries.

The idea was to collect stones and bricks and, instead of using them to hit each other, to build a bridge out of them that would start a cultural dialogue between different countries.
“This would help create love,” he said, “because if I love you I will not fight you. If I love you, then I will put my hands with your hands and we will build something together. All the problems in this universe are the result of us not loving each other. People’s desires for opportunism, greed, for looking out for themselves and not each other, are the reasons we don’t have universal peace.”

View more of the artist’s work at QaisSindy.com.