Telling the Story by: TJ Bruder for Undergroundmagazine, USA

 Almost a lifetime under a cruel dictatorship and 10 years under force on the front lines during the Iran - Iraq war, Ali Rashid has a story to tell. A story that, honestly, I wasn't sure I was ready to hear. Certainly not because I wasn't interested but because I was afraid. Afraid to possibly show the wrong reaction during the interview. Afraid to be ashamed. When Ali was fighting in a war which took 10 years of his life, I was worried about landing the right job to jump start my career. Stories like the one Ali has to tell put things in perspective immediately and shamefully I have to admit that I never really had any worries to begin with. Ali's story is a story which has the tendency to make someone who grew up in a western consumer society feel quite uneasy. However, his friendly and calm character put me at ease and surrounded by some of his paintings and personal photos I settled down comfortably on a chair next to his desk. Besides living up to his self-imposed social responsibility of telling the story of the Iraqi people under the oppression of a cruel leader, Ali is an artist. His first encounter with creativity go back to when he was just a kid growing up in the holy city of Karbala. He often wondered along the streets in his search for new lines and forms. In the art studio of his school he discovered colors early on through his teachers. That is when he realized that art had touched something very significant inside him. He then knew that there was more to art than lines, color and technique of applying them to a medium. To Ali, art became a way of life. After high school, he wanted to go on to study art at university but his resistance to place the x and signature in the right spot ruined that opportunity. In Iraq, in order to advance in any worldly profession, one had to show allegiance to the horrific political system in place which meant being a member of the Baath party. Staying strong, he enrolled in another university to study agriculture. However, most of the time Ali was to be found sitting together with peers at the art academy, doing what had already become a part of him - art. Only years later, a close friend of Ali's made it possible for him to get around the system and enroll at the university for a study in art. When the war against Iran began, Ali was drafted and sent to the front lines. 10 years of hell, death and blood were waiting for him. Art, I believe, is what allowed him to keep his sanity. Since he was placed on the front lines, most of his war time life was spent underground. A life in darkness and horror ensued, his paper and pen being his lifeline. Every day, Ali put his feelings into the lines and abstract writings. His black and white drawings of horror were laced with poems which were abstract lines to everyone but him. Ali had come up with his own secret code, protecting him from the authorities' continuous spot checks and searches when he was on home leave for 5 days every 3 months. His code was Arabic written backwards from left to right whereas normally Arabic is written from right to left. This way no one could decipher his true feelings and thoughts that he recorded on a daily basis. During the many controls and check points he had to pass, he was now able to tell the authorities that the funny writing was just abstract creative technique, nothing else. In actuality, though, they represented his outcries of pain having to fight a cruel war to please the egos of 2 dictators. As Ali puts it, sending artists and other educated individuals into the war against Iran was a win-win situation for Saddam because for him they were enemies to the regime. This is to say that whenever Iranians or Iraqi 'trouble makers' lost their lives, both scenarios represented victory in his eyes. Today, Ali's drawings are a shocking memorial to the atrocities which took place. I am amazed at how calm he stayed while recounting these days of horror. Finally, after the Gulf war in the early 90's, Ali manages to escape from Iraq. Making his way to Holland eventually, he finds himself faced with a new challenge. What will he do now? His social responsibility is calling him. Feeling the need not to tell his story but the story of the Iraqi people, he continues creating art. Relentlessly, he works on refining his creative techniques, enrolling in prestigious art academies in Holland, always keeping his subject in mind. While wondering around the room looking at many different works of Ali from various periods, I am in deep thought. I can easily detect his style and colors in all of them but I realize a clear shift in his recent works. Still conveying the atrocities of his home land I can also discover some signs of peace and hope. His late work feels more open and spacious and the colors and lines have put some of the bitterness to rest. I feel HOPE. When sharing my feelings with Ali, he nods in agreement; the hope is present in him. Once again, I am amazed. Iam truly grateful that Ali shared a part of his life with me through our interview and his art. My lasting impression is one of utmost respect and hopefully I am able to hold on to this newly gained perspective on life. I sincerely hope that many more people will make an effort to get to know his works and take a moment to reflect on the story he is telling through lines and colors. In his modest way he tells me that he doesn't want to impose his views on anybody but wants people to reflect and find their own truth when exposed to his works. For me, reflection was a natural reaction when reading the story in his paintings, drawings and prints. I am sure, for you it won't be any different. for more on Ali Rashid, visit www.alirashid.exto.nl/