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February 13, 2006

Baghdad Journal By Steve Mumford - MAO Book of the Month

Happy Valentines Day All MAO Readers!  So, did you all hear how Dick Cheney is capitalizing in on this shooting accident for Valentines Day? The Republicans are rolling out a new Dick Cheney cologne.. It's called DUCK!  Actually, Dick Cheney accidentally shot a fellow hunter, a 78-year-old lawyer. When everyone found out he shot a lawyer, his approval rating went up!

OK.. well.. as they say.. All is fair in love and war..I know I've had a few dozen war filled rationships..MAO Heart's Dr. Quiz... so what better choice for an Art Book of the Month on Valentines Day than..

Baghdad Journal, An Artist In Occupied Iraq by Steve Mumford. It's has been out for a bit, released in late 2005 by Drawn & Quarterly Books, Montreal... but I just got a copy this weekend.

189659790401_aa240_sclzzzzzzz_Many Artnet.com readers my be familiar with some of these artworks.. Or maybe you were lucky enough to see a few of these at the Greater NY show this summer at P.S.1. That was the first time I had ever seen any Steve Mumford's work.  In short.. it's Photo-Journalism.. but this time done without photography and by a skilled watercolor artist!  Actually I think this body of drawings work better in book form than in a gallery show. The results of seeing the entire project.. I found amazing. 

Mumford embedded himself with many US Military units as a documentary artist.  While the book is not overly political, it's images are powerful. The work includes 4 years of watercolors and drawings spent in wartime Iraq.  Steve Mumford documents everyday life activities of both the local population, other journalists, local artists, Iraq insurgents, as well as many US soldiers. He also documents US Patrols on raids, and combat missions. I found the images of the war aftermath the most moving.. images of wounded civilians, burning buildings, and  POWs.

Baghdadj02The book is filled with a narrative directly lifted from Mr. Mumford daily journals which vividly describe almost every image.

There's a definite photographic eye Mumford has used when picking his subjects.  We've all been bombarded with war time imagery from TV coverage of the Iraq war, these watercolors look as if they are almost caricatures of TV broadcasts.  But there is a unsettling beauty seeing  watercolors...which are most typically the medium for pretty pastoral landscapes and flowers, appropriated to document the horrors of war. Very Powerful.

Mumford The most disturbing example is the image of detainees, with hoods over their heads, titled simply “Suspects,” and presented without comment. While Mumford generally avoids a strong political message, this image does give strong reference to the Abu Ghrib prisoner abuse.

NYT critic Michael Kimmelman wrote of his work presented at PS1...“They announce a mature artist looking closely at what is urgently unfolding around him. Their traditional sobriety stands out in a show that, like the burbling young art world now, seems gladly co-opted and almost too able to please.”

I think the book is better than seeing just a few works on a museum wall.. it gives the reader a differnet perspective on the Iraq war, this time through a painters eye.

"So, Cheney's defense is that he was aiming at a quail when he shot the guy. Which means that Cheney now has the worst aim of anyone in the White House since Bill Clinton"-Jay Leno

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And not a word to say about his support for the "mission"? There is something very wrong going on here, his pedestrian paintings quite aside. This phony himself has had nothing to say about the hooding of prisoners he depicted.

And not a word to say about his support for the "mission"? There is something very wrong going on here, his pedestrian paintings quite aside. This phony himself has had nothing to say about the hooding of prisoners he depicted.

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