U hosts international art exhibit

The pieces traveled more than 6,413 miles from Iraq to Minneapolis.

For Adnan Shati , art has always been a way to not only express himself, but to remember a land where, until recently, he was unable to return. Shati, a special education teacher at St. JosephâÄôs Home for Children in Minneapolis , is one of eight Iraqi artists whose work is being exhibited in the Iraqi Art Project , located in McNeal Hall on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus. The exhibit, which features eight paintings on life in Iraq, opened Oct. 10 and closes Dec. 15. ShatiâÄôs painting, âÄúMarsh Village, IraqâÄù , depicts the marshes between the Euphrates and Tigris river s where he grew up. Shati came to Minnesota in 1990 after having spent years on the run for his art. Now, Shati says he is optimistic about the future of art in Iraq. âÄúArt is beginning to flourish more in Iraq,âÄù he said. âÄúIn a few years, it will be a very beautiful place to be.âÄù As a young man, Shati said he was drafted into the army, but didnâÄôt want to go. After helping a Kurdish man out of being court-martialed, the man returned the favor by helping Shati cross the border into Iran to escape military service. Shati was arrested by officials in Iran, and imprisoned for a year there. After being released, Shati became involved with the Iraqi human rights organization, Defense of Human Rights . In 1987, Shati put on an anti-government art exhibit, one that focused on human rights abuse in prisons. The exhibit, combined with a lecture, was videotaped and shown in 13 other countries, Shati said. At this point, Shati said he received word that Iraqi intelligence was looking for him. He then fled, only to be imprisoned by officials in Quetta, a city in northern Pakistan . Shati would be rescued by the United Nations, eventually arriving in America at the age of 38. Shati said he was unable to go back to Iraq to see his family until after Saddam Hussein âÄôs removal from power in 2004. Kathy McKay , the executive director of the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP), the group behind the exhibit, said ShatiâÄôs painting, like the others in the exhibit, show everyday life in Iraq, an aspect that is rarely shown in the media. âÄúThe paintings help Americans think broader than borders,âÄù McKay said. McKay said she was at a previous art exhibit where she encountered a woman who admitted to McKay she never even considered there were artists in Iraq. While Shati lives in Minneapolis, all of the other artists are from Iraq . Due to the high expense of shipping the paintings, director of the Muslim Peacemakers Team , an affiliate of IARP, Sami Rasouli brings each piece of art to Minnesota via suitcases. Rasouli drives with the art from Iraq to Jordan where he then takes a flight to America. By the end, the pieces travel more than 6,413 miles from Iraq to Minneapolis where they are stored in McKayâÄôs house until the next exhibit. Viewers have the option to write a note to an artist, which is then translated and sent to Iraq. There is also the option for people to buy a painting. McKay said they recently sent $6,000 from sold artwork back to Iraq. According to McKay, half of the money goes to the artists while the other half is used to fund the peacemaker team. The IARP allows for various organizations to host an art exhibit, which is how Susan Andre, informational representative for the family social sciences department, was able to obtain the art for the exhibit. Andre said she first became interested in hosting an exhibit in September when she heard about the opportunity. She attended an exhibit of the art and was able to select seven of the 30 paintings being shown for the UniversityâÄôs own display. Unlike other art exhibits, Andre chose to hang the paintings in the main office of the Department of Family Social Sciences , decorating the walls above where people are busy working. âÄúWhen faculty and students are so busy working, it is important to enrich their lives with art,âÄù Andre said of her decision to host the event. âÄúIt adds a lot to all of our lives.âÄù