Iraq is quite proud of its extensive history and culture that dates back tens of thousands of years. The ancient Assyrians and other ethnic groups arriving here throughout the centuries had such developed societies that art was an important part of it. Most of the important pieces we have discovered at various archaeological sites include pottery, necklaces, copper pieces, tools, utensils, sculptures, and paintings.
Iraqi arts also shared many similarities with the arts traditions and styles of other nearby countries, such as rug weaving and elaborate gardens like the neighboring Persians. Many of the Kurds excelled at weaving; in fact the Kurdish Textile Museum showcases many of the best examples of Kurdish weaving.
There have been many painters, sculptors, and architects emerge from Iraq, not only famous in Iraq but also throughout the world. Some of the more famous names include Ismail Fatah Al Turk, Mohammed Ghani Hikmat, Khalid Al Rahal, and Faeq Hassan.
The Sumerians were the first to have a major influence on Iraqi literature, namely because they were the first to develop a writing system, which was called cuneiform. The earliest specimens of their writing dates back to the 27th century BC. During this time, not only were there historical records being kept, but there were stories being written as well. The stories during this time were mainly in the form of legends. Three epic cycles were popular from this era: the Enmerker legends, the Lugalbanda tales, and the Gilgamesh stories.
Sumerian literature later influenced the literature of the Akkadian-Babylonians. During this era, it was common for both women and men to be learned enough to read and write. The Aramaic language was gaining ground, and the upper class and most educated were required to learn it. (It is widely thought that Jesus probably used Aramaic the most, but he was probably proficient in several languages.) A wide array of literature was written during this era including historical chronicles, law texts, humorous literature, religious texts, letters, and mythology.
The great Persian epic One Thousand and One Nights (also known as Arabian Nights) consists of several stories. One of these stories is the famous “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” which is partly set in Baghdad. There have been many remakes for cinema and for kids.
During the 20th century, many writers focused on political themes for their subjects. There was a lot of political change throughout much of that century, so it was on the forefront of everyone’s minds. After Saddam Hussein came to power, many writers left for countries where they were freer to voice their opinions on what was happening in their home country. However, many writers stayed in Iraq for a number of reasons. It was against the law to dissent against the government—no matter how minor. Several writers decided if they couldn’t write what they believed, then they’d rather just not write at all. But they were forced to publish pro-government works out of fear for being punished for their silence. Today, the censorship is not quite as bad as it was, but it’s certainly not perfect by any means. Some of the more well-known names in Iraqi literature include Salah Al-Hamdani, Najem Wali, Fadhil Al-Azzawi, Abdul Rahman Majeed al-Rubaie, and Saadi Youssef.
Up next: music and dance