Sajjad Abbas lives and works in Baghdad, IQ

 

In his 2013 public intervention, Sajjad Abbas addressed the Green Zone—an area covering ten square kilometers of central Baghdad along the banks of the Tigris River—with the phrase “I Can See You.” He painted these words near the top of the largest building he could scale, beneath a banner he hung with a massive photograph of his own eye. Known as the “Turkish Building,” it faces a major thoroughfare as well as the heavily fortified Green Zone. During the invasion and occupation of Iraq, this area was home to the United States-led coalition forces; soon after, the largest and most expensive US Embassy in the world, the Iraqi Parliament, and various foreign offices and company headquarters moved in.

Abbas’s eye was more than a condemnation or call for accountability; it was an unabashed refusal of Baghdad’s present-day dystopia, product of a willfully catastrophic occupation giving way to one of the most corrupt governments on record—both unwilling to provide even basic resources like electricity, water, and security beyond the perimeter of their guarded, air-conditioned walls. During the worst years of post-invasion violence, when smoke from bombs could be seen all around the city, the Green Zone—quiet, secure, the Tigris lapping at its impenetrable shore—remained impervious to the city’s pain. Abbas’s artwork was as much a prescient reckoning as it was an act of trespassing.

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Sajjad Abbas, I Can See You, 2013, video, color, sound, 5′03′′, b/w image in public space, video still © Sajjad Abbas

Six years after the work was produced and quickly ordered to be taken down, it was remade and resurrected onto the same building during the historic, youth-led Iraqi uprising of 2019. Protestors occupied every floor, demanding an end to the lethal domestic and international exploitation that has robbed them of their central demand: a homeland. Nearly a thousand Iraqi protesters and activists have been killed since then, many of them under the age of thirty.

Rijin Sahakian

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Sajjad Abbas, I Can See You, 2013, video, color, sound, 5′03′′, b/w image in public space, video still © Sajjad Abbas

Exhibitions

documenta fifteen, 2022, Fridericianum, Kassel (DE)

City Limits, 2017, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar, Doha (QA)

Eye Spy: The New Wight Biennial, 2016, Los Angeles (US)

Compassion Fatigue New Wight Biennial 2014, Broad Art Center, Los Angeles (US) and UCLA New Wight Gallery, Los Angeles (US)

Iraqi Superman, 2014/16, Maremetraggio ShorTS International Film Festival, Trieste (IT)