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30 November 2007

Baghdad, big mouth and bad sex

Things are looking up for the art world in Iraq, while the fortunes of Morrissey and Norman Mailer h

By Ben Coren

Against all the odds, it’s been a relatively good month for the arts in Baghdad. Hot on the heels of the announcement that the city is to host its first film festival since 2005, The Art Newspaper reported that the National Museum of Iraq is to reopen next month.

The Museum has been shut since it was infamously looted in 2003, but it has been conducting a vigorous campaign to recover lost artefacts and refurbish its ransacked galleries. It’s also been involved in designing a brilliant set of playing cards intended to inform US troops of the history and heritage of the country.

Now, with Italian backing, two galleries are to re-open. Some have questioned the wisdom of the decision with the Museum’s previous director Donny George, who left Iraq following death threats last year, asking whether it would be better to keep the Museum shut in order to ensure the protection of the treasures inside. However, the two galleries that are reopening, which showcase Assyrian and Islamic antiquities, will only contain large objects which, the Museum has made clear, are very difficult to move, let alone steal. You can only say good luck to them.


More background information on the Museum

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Images of lost treasures from Iraq

A blog looking at the archaeological impact of the war

An article which mentions Iraq’s Chess scene

Morrissey, was it really nothing?

Another week, another race related arts barney, as bequiffed Indie don Morrissey caused a stir with his reported views on immigration. In a week when issues surrounding freedom of speech were high on the news agenda, “Moz-gate”, as it was quickly dubbed, saw the NME
run a critical interview with the ex-Smiths frontman, who was reported as saying, amongst other things, that “the gates of England are flooded”.

Morrissey has always been a provocative figure, but his management have strongly denied what it views as the NME’s accusations of racism and now plans to take the magazine to court for defamation. The media were quick to pick up on the story (which even made it into Thursday’s Question Time), but opinion is divided on how bad Morrissey’s comments really were.

Some have argued that, bar the use of one or two poorly chosen words, Morrissey’s views are really not all that different from those of Tory leader and Smiths enthusiast David Cameron. For others they confirm Morrissey as a bigot and provide sufficient justification to stop listening to his music altogether.

Does the row say something important about the sensitivities of modern Britain or is it actually a fairly unremarkable story which has attained massive coverage due to the involvement of a celebrity? Either way, it doesn’t look like it will do Morrissey’s career all that much harm: several other rock stars have flirted with right wing politics in the past and not incurred long lasting consequences.

Bad Sex for Mailer

The Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Awards took place this week, the only book prize guaranteed to prompt the serious-minded litterateurs of the arts media to collectively regress into a gang of sniggering schoolboys. The winner was

Norman Mailer, who posthumously scooped the prize for a passage in “The Castle in the Forest” in which he creepily describes a penis as being “soft as a coil of excrement”.

It’s a good effort from Mailer, no doubt, but surely Christopher Rush deserved some recognition for his titillating description of Shakespeare’s bedroom shenanigans: “Anne Hathaway’s cow-milking fingers, cradling my balls in her almond palm, now took pity on the poor anguished erection.” Blimey.

At some point, someone will probably point out that it’s very easy to take the work of a talented writer out of context and then giggle at it. But, given that it’s also very funny, no one has complained yet. Well, except for Tom Wolfe, that is.

Electric December

Christmas and New Year are drawing closer and the arts media have been getting in the mood with a number of features reviewing the year, previewing Christmas and making predictions for 2008.

If you’re after an advent calendar but find chocolates fattening and pictures underwhelming then the Bristol Watershed’s “Electric December” might be just what you’re looking for. It’s an online advent calendar which offers a new short film, game or “digital distraction” every day in the run up to Christmas. This year’s selection will focus on the work of those under 21 and is curated by young people involved with the E shed website. The cyber-festivities commence, of course, on December the first.

Be sure to check out our″>Russia Special.. If you want more on the arts in the world’s largest country check out the Moscow Times or this site, which gives a historical view on Russian arts and architecture.