Andreas Weiland


Painter from the Marsh Lands, Peasant from South Iraq

Haddad Maurice is a native of South Iraq, the Basra region, where his home now lies in ruins, his books burned, the works just accomplished, destroyed. 
His father owned a farm there, studded with a large number of palm trees, and a comfortable house where he put up for many years  European archeologists working in the area. This is perhaps why Haddad Maurice developed an intense curiosity for archeological traces and the ancient cultures of his native region, Mesopotamia. 

  Haddad Maurice

Perhaps this contact also made him more aware than is usually the case, of other cultures.  The foreigners he met with as a boy were humans like him, some were friendly, warm-hearted, but also hard-working fellows, and so were, in their own way, most peasants in the villages. People in many respects are similar and loveable, in their diversity, their attachment to different socio-cultural backgrounds. Haddad Maurice thinks of the people of the world, the common people, as brothers and sisters, or at least he thinks that this is what they should and might be. And he thinks of himself, above all, as a peasant, a man from the countryside, with a love for life, a curiosity of the mind, you might say, probing and creative and experimental. 'I have no style', he says. He resorts to the aesthetic means which the work before him demands. 

He has worked abroad, for a time, teaching and doing research at universities, mainly in France where he concentrated on the chemical analysis of colors, a knowledge that has helped him to develop great  skill in producing his own, natural colors when left, in recent years,  without imported ones as a consequence of the embargo. 

But studying synthetically produced colors abroad also demanded a big price. Exposed to  - was it extensive heat, was it laser lights?  -  while doing his research on the properties of colors in Europe, he lost his eyesight, and only one eye has recently been saved, due to an operation.

Recently, Haddad Maurice has returned to Europe again, keeping memories of his bombed house, the fields and marshes and rivers abounding with rusting bombs and unexploded ammunition. And while his love for life binds him to his country and the memories of a native soil fertile with antiquities link him with the past, he is saddened by the knowledge that rusting bombs mean heavy concentration of copper oxide and iron oxide in the wetlands, the brooks, canals, and rivers, with devasting effects on the fish, and the people who catch and eat them. The poisoned water, the poisined fish, the poisoned populace – this too his home for him, a devastated home in the ‘No Fly Zone’, where, lately, wave upon wave of Allied bombers attacked, by the hundreds, bringing more death and devastation, as a prelude of what: peace?

Art is peaceful, and Haddad Maurice is a peaceful man. I’m an artist, he says, an artist and a peasant. Politics is not for him, he shies away from it, he does not want to talk about it. He cares for beauty, for honesty, for mutual understanding, for a search that is centered both on today and yesterday and 4000  years ago.  “Inspired by the history and legends of his homeland”, he “loves his freedom” as an artist, relying on forms, colors, themes  found in  the imagination and discovered as well in the “heritage of Iraq” (Mazen Asfour).

But now let us have a close look at his paintings.

A Brief Look at the Works Shown at the Catholic Academy, Trier, in Oct. 2002

Encountering the work of Haddad Maurice for the first time, I can not help noticing the diversity of his compositional approaches, his media and materials. There are water color paintings that at first sight seem almost conventional, but that bear witness to an awareness of country life, sharp observation, an ability to catch moods, the atmosphere for instance of a landscape awaiting a heavy rain fall, the peasant life characterized by both energy and a strange tranquility and perserverance that is almost lighthearted, in the case of the young farm worker depicted, sombre and eternal in the case of his oxen. 

The works showing Iraqi women, real beauties, one might say, are close to folk art: bright, colorful, geometrical,  and basically well-balanced in their formal language that relies on curves, segments of circles intercutting each other.

The works however that are most dear to me are mythological both in their formal language and their historical reference. In the case of these works, often wood instead of canvas is used as a surface. What is taken, at first sight and mistakenly, for 'normal' oil paintings, is very special in its reliance on natural substances native to his land that the colors are made of.  One, referred to as No.26, in his Trier exhibition (Oct 2002), makes me more than aware of how Haddad Maurice recoups the past echos of a distant memory. This work is resonant, a reflection of an ancient world, a bygone culture, and its artefacts.  With  apparent ease and great mastership, Haddad Maurice creates a montage of law texts hewn into stone tablets, a stele presenting two half-invisible faces of old, and a female figure of which only the body from the waist upward is visible: a naked figure, with a youthful, oval face and delicate arms that seems to carry a symbol on its head: the seven suns of Catholicism, I guessed, whereas this is, to him, a green ornament of seven ‘eyes’, disk-like eyes, grouped around an 8th, central disks: the center of the amulet that is believed  to keep ‘bad looks away’. They used it already, the artist notes,  ‘on the hands of the kings of Babylon’. ‘It comes from Sumeria’ – they were ‘the first people who used this tattoo’. But ‘the people today, use it’ as well: ‘the farmers do’.

The turquoise green of the seven ‘eye-like’ (or ‘disk-like’) shapes that form a  flower corresponds beautifully with other, golden disks: “spots’ he says, green or golden spots, the ‘kabile’ [kabeela] that the women as well as the men wear: each clan, each group belonging to a particular sheikh, has its own combination of them, in his province. Three on the arm, or four, or two, or perhaps another number of them,  in case of the man. And similarly, a combination  and number of spots, on the breast, in case of the women.

Thus what may have been the Chaldean Christian heritage (with its much older roots) merges with the local culture of his Islamic brethren, his fellow peasants who are the majority. They are all immersed in it, like the fish are immersed in the waters; they breathe the same culture, which is so ancient and so present yet, so actual, so newly lived, so distinctly felt. 

Another work is commented on briefly by the artist when I note that I love this one perhaps most of all. It is showing a  ‘necklace’, the artist says, an amulet the way the peasant women wear it because  'that keeps bad looks away' from the women, 'in case of jealousy.'  The peasants also claim that it ‘keeps the devil away’. The painting strikes me like a dream painting, done by a modern Iraqi surrealist artist. Its colors, natural colors, turquoise, blue, and red and gold, mostly, are strong and glowing. The ‘amulet’ is taking up most of the space of the canvas,  and Haddad Maurice has set it squarely in the center. The symbolism of this painting, if it is there, is obscured, by my ignorance of peasant beliefs. But I also doubt that only one reading is possible. I see in the central ‘amulet’ of this work an unconscious reference to his farm, its gardens, its garden-like, well-kept, irrigated fields, with the house in a middle position.

In all these mythological paintings that are both so modern (often relying on montage to put into a specific relation various – sometimes asynchronous – elements of Mesopotamian history), a closeness to folk art is felt at least in so far as folk art elements are ‘quoted’. The ‘amulet’ (or  ‘necklace’) painting  already mentioned is a good example. 

Another  painting of his is showing the Sumerian ‘father of the Goddess’ – that is, ‘Abu’, he explains. It shows a sphinx-like image, referring, I would say, to a stone sculpture (of a size unknown to me). It is painted starkly, crudely almost, giving the face of the ‘god’ an ancient, forceful trait – more Mesopotamian than Egyptian, and clearly more ancient. The yellow color used is faint, rather light, and made of the Papyrus flower – the flower that life springs from, in the Gilgamesh epos. It contrasts with the charcoal black outlines and facial features, such as the eyes, nose, and mouth.

Yet another work quotes the ‘first engineering design of Ur’, dating back to a moment in history 3600 years away from us now. We see the figure representing the concept of 360 degrees (to a circle), and another one, making explicit  the Theorem  of Pythagoras (which does go back to a time far more ancient than that of Pythagoras). On the right margin two old Sumerian characters (or ‘letters’) are included in the painting: they mean FARMER and FISHERMAN.  It is not by chance that among all the words of the old cuneiform script, Haddad Maurice has chosen these two.
The colors of the work are again natural colors: henna, used to have a red tone, clay, and clay oxided, which is thus giving him  darker colors.  “I teach chemical composition of colors”, Haddad Maurice says. It has helped him produce brighter, more sensuous, more glowing paintings than he could have done by relying on factory-made colors.

Other works show a part of the ‘commands of Hammurabi’, or a Marian necklace, for Haddad Maurice, immerged in an old, pre-islamic culture, but also in Islamic folk culture, is at the same time a Christian, part of a community that existed in Iraq since the second or third century if not earlier.

His colors, Haddad Maurice notes jokingly, are ‘primitive colors’ in many recent works. He had to turn to them when due to the embargo no other colors could enter his homeland.
What he resorted to was clay, which gives him ochre colors, acid plus copper which makes for copper oxide, giving him a beautiful green or turquoise. A medical substance, or – at times – henna,  provides his red tones. Then, finally, he sometimes puts in gold to give it more brilliance, or black from palm trees that grow on his native farm and that have been turned into charcoal. 

The forms he relies on are ‘the symbols of the marshes’, the marshy Basra countryside, he says.

Another approach to convey the impression left by the works of this Iraqi artist is attempted in the the text "Eight Paintings by Haddad Maurice: A Poetical Reading"