‘I completed this work in 1991, during the Gulf War, and the liberation of Kuwait. I was personally against the occupation of Kuwait and also against the war on Iraq. The Iraqi people who suffered a lot had nothing to do with the aggressive politics of a dictatorial regime, and if anything the Iraqis were the first victims. This is how the painting came to be. It reflects my pain, in the image of this agonised angel crying on the civilisation of a country that suffered suppression and persecution.
The minaret is that of the mosque of Samarra which we call in Iraq the ‘Twisted Minaret,’ known as the Malwiya Tower. Mesopotamia is the land and cradle of civilisation. Reminiscent of Baghdad’s golden age, at the same time for me it is the metaphor of the spiraling cone represented here; it symbolises the ascendance and descendance of our civilisations in our Mesopotamian land.
I painted the minaret drowning in a tumultuous ocean that knows no mercy. The angel is the symbol of purity and nobleness weeping the destiny of people. She is eaten by the flood of aggression, hostility and hatred, surrounded by threatening black clouds that attack in a scary night. She is sitting beside a decapitated head, another symbol of the harsh times humans were suffering.’
(Afifa Aleiby in conversation with Christie’s Specialists, August 2018)
Born in Southern Iraq to an open minded and cultured family, Aleiby demonstrated from a very young age an innate interest for the visual arts. Encouraged by her family, she studied at the Institute of Arts in Baghdad, were she was taught by Iraqi masters such as sculptor Miran Al Saadi and painter Rasul Alwan. Determined to continue her studies in Russia, she received a scholarship from Surikov Institute and lived in Moscow for six years, where she was close to other Iraqi intellectuals. Due to her inability to move back to Iraq, she moved to Italy and then to Yemen, where she taught at the Institute of Fine Arts in Aden. Despite the numerous relocations, she remained an active artist, creating stunning works which demonstrate her fight against racism, war, totalitarianism, and terrorism. Since the mid-1990s, Aleiby has been living in the Netherlands. In 1999, she was honoured with a retrospective at the Museum Catharinagasthuis in Gouda. In 2004, 40 years after her departure, she returned to Iraq and has since visited occasionally, yet she expresses her melancholy and longing for the open-minded and cultured Iraq in which she grew up in. She is the sister of the renowned artist Faisal Laibi.