The Monument: Art, Vulgarity, and Responsibility in Iraq

Samir Al-Khalil, Author, Kanan Makiya, Author University of California Press $17 (0p) ISBN 978-0-520-07376-0
Announced in early 1985--well before the end of the Iran-Iraq war it supposedly celebrates--Saddam Hussein's monument is less a symbol of victory in war than of a nation's subjugation to one man's power. On either end of Baghdad's parade grounds stand bronze casts of Hussein's forearms, draped with nets containing 5000 Iranian helmets, and holding aloft swords supposedly made from the melted-down weapons of Iraqi ``martyrs,'' which meet at an apex some 131 feet above ground. While al-Khalil's descriptions of the monument and its iconography are morbidly fascinating, these form only a small part of the text: the rest is an examination of art as politics and kitsch, of vulgarity and the responsibility of both artist and nation. Few of the ideas are new, coming from Robert Venturi, Quentin Bell, Plato's Republic and others. The fundamental flaw is that al-Khalil ( Republic of Fear ), an ex-patriate Iraqi writing under a pseudonym, is preaching to the converted. It seems unlikely that any reader would believe the monument to be art. As a witness to tyranny, the structure itself makes a far more eloquent statement. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/29/1991
Release date: 05/01/1991
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