Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Meet the man who sculpted Saddam Hussein

May 3, 2013 -- Updated 0550 GMT (1350 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Under Saddam Hussein's regime, Natiq al Alousi was commissioned to create works depicting the dictator
  • Al Alousi, a sculptor, says artists received much support from Saddam
  • He says working for Saddam was only a "fact of history" and does not regret it

(CNN) -- For the generation of Iraqi artists who came of age under Saddam Hussein's regime in the 1980s, one common subject was the dictator himself, often depicted holding a sword or riding an Arabian horse.

Politics aside, those were good days for artists, says Natiq al Alousi, 49, an Iraqi sculptor who considers his commissioned work of Saddam to be an achievement.

"Working as an artist in Iraq, when Saddam Hussein was president, was a golden period for all artists, not just myself. He was supportive of artists and was open to them," he says. "But we weren't open to the world for security reasons, and that's it."

Receiving small recognition from Saddam was important to him as a budding artist, al Alousi says. As a student he entered a large competition -- one that he did not expect to win -- and Saddam attended the event.

Artist blurs cultural borders

Upon viewing his work, "Saddam Hussein himself told me that the idea was nice, and that's the only thing I remember from the whole competition," he says.

Read more: Bringing Babylon back from the dead

Working as an artist in Iraq, when Saddam Hussein was president, was a golden period for all artists
Natiq al Alousi

Al Alousi went on to create public sculptures and some that were placed in presidential palaces. Some were made for aesthetics and others to reflect events or issues that the country faced, he says.

His memories of the time under Saddam can verge on idyllic. "There was never a day, for any artist in any form of art, who was forced to work for Saddam Hussein or the country," he says. "We were all happily working, and there were competitions that anyone can participate in."

And when Saddam fell in 2003, so too did al Alousi's statues. He says it is disheartening to think of art being torn down.

Now living in Abu Dhabi, al Alousi still sculpts using various mediums, but there are stumbling blocks. Few people there want to buy large statues, he says, and there is not even a foundry for his bronze works. He has to mail molds more than 1,000 miles away to Egypt, and the bronze rarely survives the return journey intact.

In Abu Dhabi, "the art movement is still yet to begin in the right way. It did start, but it needs more solidarity and extra encouragement from certain entities for it to be mature," he says.

Read more: Rediscovering Iraq's cultural heart

But al Alousi sees these as only minor problems for his art, which he says is the "purest thing" in his life, a matter of expression, beauty and experimentation.

And he says art has nothing to do with politics or religion. As for his associations with the dictator, it only meant he was at the top of his game.

"I do not regret that I once worked for Saddam Hussein," he said. "This is history. Only the best artists work for presidents."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 0346 GMT (1146 HKT)
Robot dinosaurs, Lego men and Spider-Man all could become Dubai's newest residents.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1418 GMT (2218 HKT)
Not long ago camel milk was an unfancied staple, the preserve of Bedouin herders. Now its becoming a luxury.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
Managing over 2 million people during the Hajj takes some serious technology.
October 7, 2014 -- Updated 0611 GMT (1411 HKT)
More needs to be done so women from Saudi Arabia can become world champions in sports.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Is nothing sacred? How tech allows narcissism to run riot.
From the waters of the Persian Gulf a new mega museum is emerging.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Where better to start a record-breaking solar powered flight than the desert?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Ahmed Eldin is the 18-year-old behind the prog-rock band's new album cover. Shine on you crazy diamond.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
The Humans of New York photo project exposes the hopes and fears of ordinary people in Iraq and Jordan.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 0206 GMT (1006 HKT)
Dubai's appetite for construction continues with multi-billion dollar boost to build the world's largest airport.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 0302 GMT (1102 HKT)
The UAE is becoming a hub for plastic surgery with more Emiratis going under the knife each year.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1120 GMT (1920 HKT)
Meet Erdal Inci, a digital artist from Turkey who is transforming the medium.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1339 GMT (2139 HKT)
Iran is pumping billions of dollars into a scheme to save a lake. What's so important about it?
ADVERTISEMENT