Raed Mutar lives and works in Baghdad, IQ

While a student at the University of Baghdad Faculty of Fine Arts, Raed Mutar shared a studio with two friends who were also painters. He depicts his relationship to them in an untitled oil painting on canvas from 2012. While one friend remains unseen, the other stares at a figure wearing a surgical mask and feeds fluid directly into his mouth from what appears to be an intravenous drip. Frequently hospitalized with severe asthma as a child, Mutar is both the author and subject of the piece—it is his body that is being nourished. Though his lower face is obscured by the mask, his eyes focus on us, the viewer. The painting is rich in color, portraying skin in proximity, but this sensuous scene is one of friendship formed in the dense, charged atmosphere of young endangered lives.

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Raed Mutar, Untitled, 2012, oil on canvas, 150 × 120 cm, courtesy Rijin Sahakian © Raed Mutar, photo: Eric Tschernow

Born four years before the 1991 United States-led Gulf War, Mutar turned sixteen the year the invasion and occupation of Iraq officially began. In the painting, we see his friend in the role of caretaker, while the artist seems to acknowledge our voyeuristic intent as we gaze on, indifferent to a purposefully evocative image. In the foreground lies an owl’s carcass. Mutar has photographed these birds for years—in Iraqi culture, as in many others, they represent a bad omen, a harbinger of tragedy.

We have passively watched these bodies—all of these bodies—in need of care for many years. Mutar knows this, as does his friend, and his work makes it impossible for us not to understand this as well. Here, the image of Iraqi male bodies is transported from the crude international screen to an intimate, historically referential presence that communicates this shared understanding.

 

 

Rijin Sahakian

Exhibitions

documenta fifteen, 2022, Fridericianum, Kassel (DE)