The life-size human figure lay prone, its contours shaped to depict a woman under a head-to-toe shroud of virginal white. The only color was a ragged stain of bright red around the pelvis. That was the mark of rape, the artist said, the message of shame that he said he heard from U.S. soldiers.

The artist, Qasim Sabti, said he created the figure because that is what he wanted to say to fellow Iraqis and the world about the Americans’ conduct at Abu Ghraib, the 280-acre prison complex 20 miles west of Baghdad where prisoners held by U.S. occupation troops were subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

Sabti and other Baghdad artists for the first time have begun to speak out, through their art, about the scandal at Abu Ghraib and, more generally, about the 13-month U.S. occupation of their country. Judging by an exhibition by 25 Iraqi artists at Sabti’s Dialogue Gallery in a middle-class neighborhood of northern Baghdad, they have formed a very unflattering idea of the American soldiers and civilian administrators sent here to get rid of Saddam Hussein and make a better Iraq.

The artists have not made careers of art with a political theme. Under Hussein, some painters and sculptors spent their time creating heroic depictions of the Iraqi leader, but most stuck to nonpolitical or abstract forms, Sabti said. Critical artistic comment could have landed them in jail or worse. Times have changed, however, and so has the willingness of Baghdad artists to vent strong feelings against the prevailing power – the United States — in their canvases and sculptures..


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