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ALFRAJI, Sadik Kwaish; Once Upon A Time... Hadiqat Al Umma

As a child, Sadik Kwaish Alfraji would visit the small public gardens of Hadiqat Al Umma (the ‘Nation’s Park’) in Baghdad with his father, and marvel at the plants, fountains and public artworks. In response to the death of his father and the artist’s return to Iraq after 20 years abroad, Alfraji began the multi-part project ‘Once Upon a Time’ in 2010. Taking the gardens as its inspiration, Once Upon a Time… Hadiqat Al Umma 2017 revives his childhood experiences in this immersive animation made from over 14 000 charcoal drawings, displayed across nine projections. As viewers – unable to take in all the onscreen details at once – we catch fragments and fleeting moments mimicking the sensation of walking through the park.

This video installation draws on iconography from several artworks in Hadiqat Al Umma by leading Iraqi modernist artists. These artists and their work represented the struggle for justice and liberty – at a time when newly independent Iraq was creating its own secular national identity, free of British occupation or Ottoman rule. The park has fallen into disrepair since the First Gulf War (1990–91), however, for Alfraji, it continues to represent a place where he can imagine all sorts of magical undertakings.