‘You see something. You identify it not for what it is but as a function of what of your own background and your own life prompt you to see. We carry with us not only our worries, but also what happens to us and what we anticipate will happen. We are not content with just being in the world. We are here as killers, musicians, artists and so on.’

Halim Al Karim

Do you remember the last time when looking at an artwork has opened up something inside you? The moment when a painting or a photography ‘looked back at you’ with the gaze that has the intensity of a real human being, disarming you totally, from one moment to the next?

I am sure that the most of you experienced a total ‘merge’ with a form of art at least once during your lifetime.  For some people it would be a visual artwork – for others a piece of beautiful music or stunning performance at the theater.

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Halim Al Karim, ‘Eternal Love’

When it happens – one begins  to unfold the unearthly, encrypted messages from the inspired artist. It’s important to add that you may feel slightly intimidated with the fact that somebody (in this case it is the artist) who knows you so well.

There are artworks that will make you wonder, how did he or she know?

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Halim Al Karim, White Ash 8 Ed.8

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Halim Al Karim, Eternal Love 10 Ed. 3 + 2AP

I have come to  realize that this very special kind of art, in some incomprehensible way, has the ability to purify you, leaving you with a feeling of awe, holiness and enlightenment.

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Halim Al Karim, Hidden Godess Hidden Goddess 5, 2009

If you  know how to listen – that sort of  would tell you fascinating stories. If you are ‘receptive’ an artwork could actually speak to you and just like the Princess of the mystic East from ‘Arabic Nights’, Scheherazade. It would tease you with thousands of breathtaking tales, leaving you asking for more but never really coming to an end of the story.

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Halim Al Karim, ‘Hidden Goddess’, 2009

Sometimes art takes a shape of a beautiful virgin that touches you with her long, white fingers but never reveals all of her secrets, only bringing you closer to conclusions that you’d otherwise never make.  From this point of view the artists are the greatest and most generous givers in the world  that don’t truly realize the importance of their mission. Is there anything more precious on this earth, than the content of the artist soul reflected in a piece of art?

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The picture taken in XVA Art Hotel,Dubai, Authors Private Collection

Some artworks by exceptional artist can set free all that’s been locked up.  For me the photography by an Iraqi artist Halim Al Karim that I’ve been lately introduced to – posses that that kind of special power. Halims art scratches you, devours you – touching your soul with a new kind of curse and teaching you, just like the poem by Polish writer – Zbigniew Herbert ‘The Evoy of Mr. Cogito’, to be faithful and go:

Go where those others went to the dark boundary

for the golden fleece of nothingness your last prize

go upright among those who are on their knees

among those with their backs turned and those toppled in the dust

you were saved not in order to live

you have little time you must give testimony

be courageous when the mind deceives you be courageous

in the final account only this is important

and let your helpless Anger be like the sea

whenever you hear the voice of the insulted and beaten

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Halim Al Karim, ‘Lost Memory’, 

I met Halim Al Karim during my most recent trip to the Middle-East. On the last day of my stay in the beautifully located hotel called XVA Art Hotel (a ‘place to be’ for all Dubai visitors who love contemporary art and appreciate original and traditional style of interiors and delicious breakfasts) I’ve been introduced to the long-haired artist by an American lady,  Mona Hauser (the very kind and unbelievably hospitable hotel and gallery founder).

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XVA Art Hotel, Dubai, Authors Private Collection 

 

During our very short conversation Halim looked at me with his big, brown eyes and was trying to explained to me the origin of creativity:

‘Cavemen had no education, neither have they seen museums or art galleries. Still – something in them enabled them to paint the beautiful shapes on the cage the walls’.

What stroke me at first was  – while Halim was speaking to me- was the fact that he was both ‘present’ and ‘absent’. During our conversation the artist seemed to be detached from the reality, trying to protect himself from me and the rest of the world. Deep inside I was sure there must be a reason why  the artist was building those walls around him, appearing to me as ‘ a difficult game’. There was something about him that made him take a step back and stop others from coming any closer. For a moment I felt like I was  near to wild animal that could  be easily frightened away.

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Halim Al Karim in Denver Museum Of Art

At the same time I knew I was invited to enter the very exclusive territory, that one would step into with utmost respect, wearing no shoes, in order to make sure that the sleeping monsters and demons in the artist head, aren’t woken up.

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Halim Al Karim, ‘Eternal  Love’

There are many things that I’veI learned few hours later, from the book that I have received from Halims close friend and artist Irfan Mvgdi residing in the same hotel.  As a matter of fact Halim Al-Karim underwent a harrowing experience during the first Gulf War. Opposing Saddam’s regime and its compulsory military service he took to hiding in the desert, living for almost 3 years in a hole in the ground covered by a pile of rocks. He survived only through the assistance of a Bedouin woman who brought him food and water and taught him about gypsy customs and mysticism.

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Halim Al Karim, ‘Goddesses of Beirut’

In some of Halim’s work, photography is used for its non-physical qualities: a medium which quite literally creates an image from light, capturing the transient and interwoven nature of time and  memory.

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Halim Al Karim, Hidden War (From Hidden Series), 1985

 

The Sumerian artifacts featured in Al-Karim’s Hidden Prisoner and Hidden Goddess were photographed in the Louvre and the British Museum; Al-Karim describes seeing them interned behind glass, far away from their home, as a painful reminder of visiting his friends and family who were held as political prisoners at Abu Ghraib during Saddam’s regime.

The Images of Al-Karim whisper the words of truth. They recite tales of a man that went trough many traumatic experiences – and yet – never took his existence for granted.

‘repeat old incantations of humanity fables and legends

because this is how you will attain the good you will not attain

repeat great words repeat them stubbornly

like those crossing the desert who perished in the sand

and they will reward you with what they have at hand

with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap

go because only in this way will you be admitted to the company of cold skulls

to the company of your ancestors: Gilgamesh Hector Roland

the defenders of the kingdom without limit and the city of ashes

Be faithful Go’

(Zbigniew Herbert’ ‘Envoy of Mr. Cogito)

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Halim Al Karim, Hidden Victim, 2008, Weng Art Foundation, Krefelfd, Germany

There is plenty of pain, solitude, fear, longing for love, search for inner peace– the ache of existance and the ache of of death. But most of all there is this a penetrating gaze of a person that may forgive but shall never forget.

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Halim Al Karim, ‘Witness from Baghdad 3’ (from Witness From Baghdad Series), 2008

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The picture taken in XVA Art Hotel, Dubai, Authors Collection

All of the artworks by Halim Al Karim  that I’ve seen so far bring to mind a self-portrait. This way Halims portraits of women (the goddesses) and men become the portraits of all human kind.  Moreover, there is one, important thing they have got in common. Namely, the persistence and the steadfastness that the Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, Ernest Hemingway spoke of,  in one of his most famous short story:  “An Old Man And The Sea”.

‘A man not made for defeat.  A man can be destroyed but not defeated’

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Women look at “Witness from Baghdad” by Iraqi artist Halim al-Karim, exhibited by Christie’s for its seventh auction of international modern and contemporary art in Dubai. (Photo by Karim Sahib /AFP/Getty Images.)

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