BASRA LOCALS PROTEST: Renovation of famed statue was ‘mutilation’, they say

By Nagham Makki in Basra

The statue of Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, standing on the path that snakes around the Shatt al-Arab waterway in Basra, is well known to many locals. Al-Sayyab, who died in 1964, is known as one of the Arabic-speaking world’s most influential poets. His Basra statue, on the corniche, was erected by Iraqi sculptor Nida Kadhim in 1970, with a passage from al-Sayyab’s poem, “Stranger on the Gulf,” inscribed into its base. Since then, the sculpture has become both a landmark for locals and an attraction for tourists.

This is why there was a local uproar when the sculpture was recently “renovated”.

Basra resident Haj Mohammed was taking his daily stroll along the corniche when he first noticed it. “I glanced at the statue and it was astonished by the change in its colour, a change to the extent that its features were completely blurred,” he said. “This is a symbol of our city. How could they ruin it like this?”

Locals started posting on social media about how the sculpture had been painted with shoe polish — at least, that’s how it looked they said.

Commenters became very angry and demanded to know why this had happened.

The authorities denied any wrongdoing. “Saying that we are painting the statue of al-Sayyab with shoe polish is untrue,” said Hassan al-Najjar, Basra’s assistant governor. “In fact, the people who say that just want to defame us.”

Al-Najjar suggested that critics were just annoyed by the Basra municipality’s many achievements.

“The work was done by skilled hands with experience in this field, using paint from a reputable source known to resist weather conditions,” al-Najjar explained. “It is guaranteed for ten years.”

However other experts in the field insisted that the Basra authorities had made a mistake. Basra sculptor Hamam Tha’er said he felt the municipality had “mutilated” the famous statue.

“The statue is cast in high-quality bronze. That’s the best kind of material to resist all weather conditions and it doesn’t need this kind of maintenance,” he explained.

Painting the statue like this indicates ignorance, Tha’er said, adding that the authorities should have consulted local artists or even the original sculptor before going ahead.

The al-Sayyab statue has actually already undergone maintenance twice, it has been counted, including under the supervision of the original creator. It was never painted, he said.

“Colouring and painting statues is only for statues made of gypsum or fiberglass, statues that are not weather resistant,” Tha’er continued. “Unlike bronze, which acquires a patina that protects it from corrosion.”

“It would be more appropriate for the Basra municipality to follow the example of Baghdad authorities,” Tha’er told Al Menassa. “They actually consult with artists and sculptors during maintenance work. For example, the famous Kahramana Fountain statue, was restored under the supervision of the original sculptor.”


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