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Secular Culture of Iraq

Since the middle of the last century, there has been, in addition to a religious culture, a secular movement in the arts. These artists have generally been trained at art academies in the West. They have sought a synthesis between traditional Arab art – with its emphasis on calligraphy, geometric motifs, and images derived from nature, and its reluctance to represent the human form – and modern currents in Western painting and sculpture. A similar development took place in literature.

Influenced by sensitivities among Shiites and Kurds, these artists focused on what was peculiar to Iraq, in at least partial contrast to the Arab nationalism that was for years the dominant current in the Arab, and especially the Sunni, part of the nation. In the chaotic weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein, museums holding the work of these Iraqi artists were plundered, as were the National Library and National Archives of Iraq, where 60 percent of the collection, consisting partly of centuries-old manuscripts and books, was stolen or suffered fire or water damage.

A cultural struggle is beginning to develop between Islamists and secularists. Islamists will presumably wish to suppress, and possibly combat, secular influences in Iraqi society, and this will bring them into conflict with various communities, including the overwhelmingly secular Iraqi art world.

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