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Artists in Jordan Protest War With Creative Works

Jordanian artists are adding their "voice" to anti-war demonstrations through a communal mural depicting the ravages of war. But, many Iraqi artists in Jordan prefer to keep a low profile.

A dozen artists gather at the professional union headquarters with their paintbrushes and tubes of color in hand. They are composing the elements for a mural that depicts the ravages of conflict.

Algerian artist Nora Debouche says it is her way of protesting the war. "I'm here to show solidarity with the Iraqi people. And if we can't do anything with our tongues and hearts, maybe we can do something with our paintings," she said.

Ms. Debouche's canvas is dark and somber, with gray brick walls, barbed wire and a large oil barrel dominating the scene. She says it reflects her vision of the tragedy of war.

Nearby, Palestinian art student Samira Aseer describes her contributions - two small canvases in black and white and red.

"The background is a Palestinian headdress. The heart symbolizes Palestine and Iraq, and the barbed wire symbolizes pain," he said. "In other words, everyone is against it. And, the second one is basically the same idea, but the heart has a knot in the middle, which symbolizes pain as well."

The paintings will join dozens of others already lined up against the wall to form a large mural of protest that will be put on display.

But Iraqi artists like Ghassen Gha-eb prefer to keep his politics and painting separate.

The 38-year-old abstract painter arrived in Jordan with his family more than a month ago to prepare for an art exhibit in the Gulf. He does not expect to return to Baghdad until the war is over.

Mr. Gha-eb talks proudly of Iraq's cultural heritage, but acknowledges life in Baghdad has not been easy for Iraqi artists during the past decade.

"These are problems that face all artists in Iraq, the difficulty in obtaining raw materials," he said. "As you know, Iraq for the past 12 years has been under U.N. sanctions. The embargo was very tough, and it also includes not only food and medicine, but also culture."

The young painter says it has been hard to make a living on his art alone. He was supplementing his income as a teacher, but even that was hard.

Mr. Gha-eb refuses to talk about politics, but does not mask his opposition to the war. He says this war, like the 1991 Gulf War and the Iran-Iraq war before it, affects his work.

"You know the painter is a human being. He feels and he participates. He lives in that society, even if he didn't take part in any of the wars," he said. "For sure, all the war affected his paintings. And some of the paintings reflect his soul. Now, he believes he is using more dark colors than before."

For violinist Mohammed Abu Abbas, Jordan has become his home after nine years of living in the capital. He helps run a music conservatory in Amman. But he cannot forget his homeland and his fellow musicians back home.

"If they need something, I send to them, like notes and strings, helping them to come here and play with us," he said.

Mr. Abu Abbas says he has not been in touch with his friends back home in recent days because phone lines have been cut.

The soft-spoken violinist says he finds solace and strength in his work with young musicians and in his music. He chooses a traditional Iraqi composition to play for a visitor to his classroom,

"I continue my work, of course, with high spirit, because the challenge comes up from you and you challenge everything in your life," he said. "I must take care of myself, take care of my life and take care, if I can, of others and help everybody."

The violinist admits the wars of his country have cast a shadow over his work and over the work of other Iraqi artists. But he says he remains an optimist.

Mr. Abu Abbas is not a composer, but when asked how he would reflect his reaction to the war, he chooses music that conveys both power and the spirit of survival.

"If I think about playing a symphony from Beethoven, I choose the Fifth Symphony. See, this is strong and the last movement is full of hope," he said.