This text is a part of our newest Wonderful Arts & Reveals particular report, which focuses on how artwork endures and conjures up, even within the darkest of occasions.
PORTLAND, Ore. — In Baghdad, on March 9, 2000, on the age of 22, Samir Khurshid accomplished his ultimate obligatory portrait of Saddam Hussein for the Iraqi army. He can not recall precisely what number of portraits he painted in all, however the quantity, he estimates, is within the a whole bunch.
So far as Mr. Khurshid is aware of, not considered one of these portraits survived the autumn of Mr. Hussein’s authorities in 2003. Mr. Khurshid says he even burned one himself.
“I really feel horrible, however I did it,” he recalled in an interview, flashing a large smile.
Now, 6,500 miles away in Portland, Mr. Khurshid, 42, nonetheless paints, creating tapestry-sized oil canvases that includes a freedom of content material he by no means dreamed of as an artist in Iraq. His packed tableaus recall the frenzy of Hieronymus Bosch, bursting with parts that symbolize Mr. Khurshid’s former and present life: household allegories, critiques of militarizing youth and limitless warfare and 9/11, American girlfriends, the purity and potential of newborns and a Noah’s Ark of anthropomorphized animals, rippling with advantage and vice.
His work has been included in group exhibits, and he just lately acquired an arts grant from Oregon’s Regional Arts and Tradition Council to complete a set and exhibit it. He had hoped to arrange that exhibition this summer time in Portland, however the area he was in talks with closed to the general public initially of the coronavirus pandemic.
Whereas rising up in Iraq, Mr. Khurshid studied the outdated masters, reminiscent of Rubens and Caravaggio, and admired the enigmatic surrealism of Dalí. He strives to include their methods into his present work.
And Saddam Hussein nonetheless makes appearances, albeit in a much less centralized manner: You may spot a waving Mr. Hussein frozen in a stone reduction within the background of “H-Hummingbird” (2014) and peering out of a canine’s rear finish in “S-1, Samir” a part of an ongoing triptych.
“I don’t hate Saddam and I don’t love Saddam,” he stated. “I’m pleased that I turned a superb artist due to Saddam. While you’re afraid, you push tougher.” The army’s inflexible requirements helped enhance his method, he defined. “If not for portray Saddam, I wouldn’t be the artist I’m in the present day.”
From his studio within the Falcon Artwork Neighborhood, a artistic hub of 25 artist areas within the North Portland neighborhood, Mr. Khurshid tells his story, together with his pal Önder Bahadirli appearing as a translator when wanted. Mr. Khurshid, whose first language is Turkish, spoke virtually no English when he got here to the USA; he continues to study via programs at Portland Neighborhood School.
Mr. Khurshid describes himself as an enthusiastic artist from way back to he can recall. He spoke fondly of his mom’s shooing him away from drawing on the partitions when he was a small youngster. Usually she discovered him asleep over a sketchpad, pencil nonetheless in hand. And whereas in the present day he considers himself nonreligious, he was raised in a Muslim household that was supportive of his craft, regardless of that in Iraq figurative artwork could be seen as heresy.
“If we feed our kids weapons, we give the world blood,” Mr. Khurshid stated. “If we give a brush to youngsters, they are going to be artists.”
At 18, he was drafted into the army. When his superiors surveyed the troopers, asking if that they had particular expertise, he responded that he was an artist.
“They stated: ‘You’re portray Saddam. It’s important to watch out. It’s important to be a superb artist. Are you positive?’”
He was positive. They gave him a photograph of Mr. Hussein, he stated, and two weeks to finish a portrait as a take a look at.
He handed the take a look at, turning into considered one of Mr. Hussein’s many official portraitists. He joined a bunch of painters who churned out representations to be displayed in authorities buildings and public areas throughout the nation.
Whereas Mr. Khurshid by no means met his topic, he painted his likeness many occasions — be it seated, driving on a horse or standing on a tank — and says he can nonetheless do it from reminiscence.
Upon finishing his army service in 2000, Mr. Khurshid returned to reside together with his household in Tuz Khurmatu. After the USA invaded Iraq in 2003, Mr. Khurshid supported himself by taking commissions for work from U.S. troopers on the close by Ahead Working Base Bernstein. He painted household portraits, beloved bikes and imaginary battle scenes. Accepting cash from People, Mr. Khurshid stated, made him a goal of a few of the native Islamist teams. To maintain his household secure, he stated, he needed to depart.
“There have been a pair occasions they tried to kill me, however I’m fortunate,” he stated.
In 2006, with assist from household and pals, he escaped to Turkey, the place the United Nations granted him refugee standing. Apart from a short go to his two brothers made to Turkey, he hasn’t seen his household since he fled Iraq. His father died in Iraq in August.
This 12 months is the 10th anniversary of his arrival in Portland, which he had by no means heard of earlier than the United Nations positioned him there as a refugee in November 2010. Mr. Khurshid turned a U.S. citizen in 2017.
Brian Wannamaker, a Portland-based real-estate developer and the founding father of the Falcon Artwork Neighborhood, offered Mr. Khurshid with a studio and an condo free of charge after listening to about his arrival within the metropolis via the native information. (Mr. Khurshid now subsidizes his lease by giving work to Mr. Wannamaker.)
“He’s a beautiful artist,” Mr. Wannamaker stated, concerning the resolution to ask Mr. Khurshid into the Falcon Artwork Neighborhood. “It was vital for him to be round different artists and get a sense of what American group is like.”
Individuals within the metropolis have embraced him, Mr. Khurshid stated, donating artwork provides and commissioning work and inspiring him to observe his creative imaginative and prescient. In the USA, this imaginative and prescient has developed into frank examinations of politics, tradition and faith.
“These items come between us and create distance from love,” he stated.
Lara Mendicino, the chair of the English for Audio system of Different Languages division at Portland Neighborhood School and considered one of his oldest pals in Portland, defined that Mr. Khurshid was fearless and joyful.
“Nothing is frightening for him. Nothing,” she stated. Whereas some folks within the Portland artwork scene have suggested him to color smaller, extra reasonably priced works that align with the Portland market, Mr. Khurshid dislikes the thought.
“The scale of the story he’s telling dictates the scale of the canvas,” Ms. Mendicino stated.
And Mr. Khurshid’s story is monumental.
After the interview, he despatched an essay he’d written for an English class.
“I shall be pleased if the world understands the message of my portray, which is the shortage of freedom and reality in my world and in my nation, which is Iraq,” he wrote.
The essay is titled “A Born Artist.”