From 5 to 10 June 1967 the Six-Day War briefly erupted between Israel and its neighbouring states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The skirmish was one of a series of Arab-Israeli conflicts that flared up during the first three decades of the Cold War, before a ceasefire after the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 ended large-scale hostilities.
One of the Israeli soldiers bearing witness to the Middle East’s turbulent experiences as a Cold War hot spot was Sol Baskin. Raised in the United States, Baskin had served in the US Army during World War II before emigrating to Israel in 1948. In small sketches and watercolours he recorded scenes of daily military life during the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War, including depictions of military manoeuvres, destroyed tanks and the medical treatment of wounded fighters.
Baskin kept his collection of work at his home in Tel Aviv for forty years, before recently donating it to the archives of the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Examples can be seen on the MOD website, as well as in the following article (in Hebrew): The Yom Kippur War, in Illustrations.
Images (top to bottom): Sol Baskin, Soldiers Taking a Nap, 1973; Sol Baskin, Battle Positions, 1973.
On 5 January 1957 the ‘Eisenhower Doctrine’ was established in a speech delivered by the American President. In response to the Suez Crisis in Egypt the previous year, the United States codified its commitment to providing financial and military aid to countries in the Middle East, to support their fight against the spread of Soviet communism. And where politics went, art followed.
Yet while modern art would become increasingly visible across the Arab world in the following years, by the 1950s it was already firmly entrenched in Iraq thanks for the pioneering work of Turkish-born painter and sculptor, Jawad Saleem. Credited as “the founder of modern art in Iraq”, Saleem arrived in Baghdad in 1940 from war-torn Paris, where he had been studying prior to the Nazi invasion. Having trained at some of the top art schools in Europe, Saleem shared his skills with a new generation of artists in his home country as Head of the Sculpture Department at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad. In 1951 he founded the Baghdad Group for Modern Art, who launched their new vision of Iraqi art in an inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Ancient Costumes. After Saleem’s untimely death in 1961, the leadership of the group was transferred to his protégé, Shakir Hassan Al Said. With the support of other prominent Iraqi artists taught by Saleem, such as Ismail Fatah Al Turk, the group would help to establish a thriving art scene in the region.
Recently there has been a resurgence of awareness of Cold War art from the Middle East, thanks to the foundation of the Association of Modern and Contemporary Art from the Arab World, Iran and Turkey (AMCA) by Iraqi art specialist, Professor Nada Shabout.
You can view some more examples of work by the Baghdad Group in this ‘Modern Art in Iraq’ slideshow.
Images: Top – Jawad Saleem, Untitled (The Gardener), c.1950. Oil on canvas, 62 x 52 cm. Private Collection, Dubai. Photo courtesy Meem Gallery, Dubai; Bottom – Shakir Hassan Al Said, Lines on a Wall, 1978. Oil on canvas, 120 x 120 cm. © Photo: Courtesy of Nada Shabout
A group art exhibition in Dubai is currently exploring how present-day global politics continues to be dominated by unresolved issues from the Cold War. Statue of Limitation plays on legal terminology relating to the time limit on seeking justice to offer ‘an anti-monument to human will, with all its limitations’. The exhibition focuses in particular on the geographic and strategic importance of the Middle East in the Cold War confrontation between East and West, which led to the Suez Crisis in 1956 and the establishment of the Eisenhower Doctrine the following year.
Here 5 international artists work in a variety of media to explore themes of state control, propaganda, global power, Western entitlement and residual colonial anxieties. Central to the exhibition is Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck and Media Farzin’s video Chronoscope, 1951, 11 pm. The artists have weaved together reordered dialogue, taken from US television footage from the 1950s, to offer an unsettling insight into the ongoing preponderance of Cold War rhetoric in current discourse, particularly in relation to wars on terror and government surveillance programmes. In an interview with Time Out Dubai the artists have elaborated to explain their position: ‘Cold War rhetoric is still very present with us today – communism or terrorism, the ‘free world’ continues to use the media to sway public opinion in its favour, and resorts to violence where ‘hearts and minds’ aren’t quite won.’
Statue of Limitation remains open at the Green Art Gallery in Al Quoz, Dubai until 4 January 2014. American audiences can also see an example of Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck’s work in Modern Entanglements at Henrique Faria Fine Art in New York for the next fortnight.
Image: Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck, Chronoscope, 1951, 11pm, 2009–2011. In collaboration with Media Farzin. (Installation view) Photo: silversalt. Courtesy of Artspace, Sydney