Forthcoming

"Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another." author Toni Morrison (1931- 05.08.2019)

“If I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me”; Nora Ephron, author/comedian

"Make your story count". Michelle Obama

"Social pain is understood through the lens of racial animus". Researcher/author Sean McElwee writing in Salon, 2016

"We are citizens, not subjects. We have the right to criticize government without fear."  Chelsea Manning; activist/whisleblower

“My father was a slave and my people died to build this country, and I’m going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you, And no fascist minded people, like you, will drive me from it. Is that clear?” Paul Robeson; activist/singer

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent”. from civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?” Frederick Douglass, WHAT TO THE SLAVE IS 4TH JULY? 07.05.1852 (full text in blog)

Senator Elizabeth Warren "We're a country that is built on our differences; that is our strength, not our weakness"

 

"We are more alike than we are different"v  Maya Angelou

As a Black writer, I was expected to accept the role of victim. That made it difficult in the beginning to be a writer.      James Baldwin

I often feel that there must have been something that I should’ve done that I didn’t do. But I can’t identify what it is that I didn’t do. That’s the first difficulty. And the second is, what makes you think you’re it?   

         Harry Belafonte, activist and singer at 89

 

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble; It's what you know for sure that just ainst so.

Mark Twain

 

You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you.

Mary Tyler Moore

 

 You can’t defend Christianity by being against refugees and other religions

Pope Francis:

 

"I don't have to be what you want me to be". Muhammad Ali

"The Secret of Living Well and Longer: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure"  attributed to Tibetan sources

Recent audio posts include interviews with Rumi interpreter Shahram Shiva, London-based author Aamer Hussein, South African Muslim scholar, professor Farid Esack, and Iraqi journalist Nermeen Al-Mufti's brief account of Kirkuk City history. Your comments on our blogs are always welcome.

 

Mohammed Ghani Hikmat, 1929-2011 (see our Sept 27 podcast)

2011-09-19

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

To know Mohammed Hikmat Ghani was to know Iraq… well, Baghdad—vibrant, dynamic, proud, all-embracing. With a long, productive career, his work valued by museums and collectors internationally, Ghani the sculptor needs no introduction.

I first met Ghani in 1990 on my initial visit to Baghdad. It was a propitious encounter since through him, I made many good friends who helped me understand and like Iraq. Our encounter moved from a professional relationship-- I first interviewed him about his work for a US magazine-- to an enduring friendship with the entire family.

I remained close to Ghani and his wife, archeologist Gaya Rahal, up to the time we last met, a year ago at their home in exile in Jordan. His son Yasser, with his wife Rana, and their children, had just left for overseas. Ghani was so sad he could not talk about it. He was never a person lost for words, so we knew this separation was very hard for him.

Whatever the misfortunes of his homeland, the absent friends, and his personal disappointments, Ghani never relaxed his enormous energy as a sculptor, and his artistic imagination never flagged. That week in Amman, he had had a hugely successful exhibition of recent work. “All sold”, he said, with some astonishment. “I have new orders from many people who were too late to buy a piece in the show. I have to start working again, immediately.”

Collectors of Ghani’s recent work are Iraqis in the Diaspora, especially those living in Jordan. He was proud of this, proud that his people, despite recent hardships and material losses, continued to value art and the work of Iraqi artists in particular. Indeed, since 1991, the year when UN-US sanctions were imposed on Iraq, the Jordanian capital had emerged into something of a regional art center—this largely due to the influx of Iraqi artists driven there by lack of materials, by the closure of museums, and due to the decline of Iraq’s middle class who had supported the arts in their homeland.

The only time I witnessed a hiatus in Ghani’s production was during the US bombing of Iraq in early 1991. He was angry and shocked and would never forgive the Americans for that assault. During those 42 days, before he could repair his bombed studio, under siege, confined to his home, Ghani occupied himself assembling a photographic collection of his work—sketches, photographs and notes from his entire career. He set about preparing this for publication. (Indeed, within months it was printed, now certain to become a collector’s item.) In this he recruited the help of his skillful and devoted daughter Hajjar.)

Ghani often recalled his years in Rome, and kept in touch with fellow artists there. He knew Italian so well that when conversing in English, which he did with relative fluency, he spoke with an Italian accent.  Whenever lost for an English word, he quickly substituted with an Italian. This Iraqi’s conversation in English was often colorfully peppered with Italian.

During his exile in Amman, Ghani resumed his work, and to a degree the family’s social life continued. Any meeting after 7 pm with Ghani and Gaya was bound to be an Iraqi party; down the street or across town, Iraqi friends were gathering, and if I was in town, I accompanied them. Invariably I was gratified by hilarity and uplifting company. It was the same in Baghdad where I spent time with the Ghani family on every one of my dozens of visits there during the 13 years of sanctions from 1990-2003.

At their modest Baghdad home the atmosphere was always relaxed; I often joined Ghani and Gaya in the evening to find myself among Iraq’s most accomplished musicians, artists and scholars, among them oud master and composer Munir Bashir, literary critic Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, artist Laila Al-Attar, archeologist Walid Al-Jadir; with others, they made Baghdad the dynamic and vital city it was. Of course all that changed as the merciless sanctions took their toll, driving people out of the country, striking down many with illness or despair.

During the day, whether in Iraq or in exile, Ghani was not to be seen. He had a strict regime—at work in his studio by 9 am, an hour for lunch, then back to work until seven in the evening-- even at the age of 82. He was not to be disturbed when at work. Not even Gaya ventured into the studio. Only Yasser, in the years that he was an apprentice to his father, might be in the studio with him. I was once in his workplace, only because I was to interview him about his career, arguing that it was essential for me to be with him among the mock-ups and his finished pieces while we talked.

Ghani and his family survived the sanctions, but not without difficulties.

 “Never”, said Ghani; “these sanctions will never reach inside my house”. So he kept the mood upbeat, and an open door for guests including his children’s school friends. Although those sanctions did invade even this home—nothing could withstand that brutal, cold-blooded assault. The death or departure of friends and neighbors took its toll; still Ghani stayed on. It was not until the American led invasion, bringing threats to his family and the ransacking of the museums, that he went into exile. Before long though, in Amman, he was at work again.

“The mayor of Baghdad has asked me to return”, he told me in 2010. There will be work there for me. But as long as my country is occupied, I shall not go.”

The determined mayor persisted it seems, and finally last October, Ghani revisited his country. It was a bitter-sweet encounter. However, the sculptor did agree to design a series of pieces for the city. Back in Amman, in his final months, as he was failing, Ghani worked with his son Yasser to direct the details of the casting and the installation of his last works—four new sculptures to be erected in Baghdad. When they are installed, they will partner with the already well known Ghani landmarks in Baghdad to decorate this city he called his “most beautiful lady”.

Today his body rests there, a final wish of Ghani, awaiting these new installations.

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