Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Modern Art Iraq (Online) Archive

Title unknown,
Khaled Albassam, 1958
A new online archive came to into existence in February 2011 - The Modern Art Iraq Archive (MAIA). The website states that its mission is to document Iraq's threatened modern artistic heritage. The site will house images, many of whose originals are now lost, from the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art, and other publications and documentation. The website states that "MAIA's goals are to raise awareness of the diverse body of modern works of Iraqi art, to help locate their current whereabouts, and to assist agencies working to prevent their illegal movement and sale. MAIA aims to reach a wide and participatory audience across the globe, and offers users the ability to document, discuss, explore, and enrich Iraqi artistic expressions and experiences."

MAIA was launched with over 700 works and documents and the archive continues to grow as new works will be add continuously and they invite people worldwide to contribute information about the works. Its homepage states:
The Modern Art Iraq Archive (MAIA) is a resource to trace, share, and enable community enrichment of the modern art heritage of Iraq. Explore the works by artist, browse through related textual materials, or add your own images or stories to the archive.
The website is not dissimilar to many artist community website in their visual presentation and it currently has the following categories:
Styles and themes vary greatly and there were many surprises, most significantly that it contains many figurative works and even nudes, in contrary to many people's preconception of what Iraqi art would be:

Title unknown, Faiq Hassan, Date unknown

The more unique part of this website is the "Texts" section, which includes fascinating documentations like these:

- Exhibitions 1940s - Documentary Materials (معارض ١٩٤٠ - وثائق)
- Personal Documentation (وثائق شخصيه)
- Magazine Articles (مقالات من مجلات)

Central to the development the of website, according to MAIA, "were ease of use, translation into Arabic, extensive and inclusive documentation, community contribution, and syndication of content elsewhere on the Web." One curious thing to know is if the translation done automatically or manually. This is a very convenient feature and could facilitate culture understanding amongst groups of people. On my personally website, I included titles in my first and third language - Chinese and German, respectively - together with English titles in my portfolio and it did increase hits. I did it manually, since the site where my portfolio module is hosted - Flickr - does not provide an automatic translation feature, nor do my alternative portfolio sites on ArtSlant or Saatchi Online. A multi-lingual website is always a cause for celebration.

The contribute page allows people to upload their own materials, including stories, images, video, and audio.

The website however did not elaborate on how it will "assist agencies working to prevent their illegal movement and sale," and it would be interesting to learn.

The San Francisco Chronicle just reported a story of tracing a 6 feet wide painting by Ralph Fasanella, previously displayed at the Oakland Public Library and the Oakland Museum of California. It took Laura E. Ruberto great effort to locate this "missing" art, in African American Museum & Library at Oakland, its home since 2003. Apparently, an provenance agency like MAIA is very important to help identify and catalog works of art.


  1. Thanks Mathew.

    I've been working on the project. Unfortunately, we didn't identify a way of automating translation into Arabic, so the project hired a domain expert and native Arabic speaker. It may be possible to get some help from the good folks at Meedan may be able to help (

    As far as the law-enforcement part goes, we're trying to get these data into the hands of customs officials. That's an on going effort.


  2. Hello, Eric:

    Thank you for the explanations. I have guessed some but would rather only state the sure facts.

    This website is very interesting and I am sure it will serve many people in multiple ways. I can also see it as a model for many such endeavors.

    Thank you,

    Matthew Felix Sun