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Play staged amid ruins heralds Mosul's artistic revival

By Alaa Hussein in Baghdad

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Students from the Ninawa Institute of Fine Arts recently staged a play in the ruins of the institute in Mosul. [Photo courtesy of the Ninawa Institute of Fine Arts]

The ruins of Ninawa's Institute of Fine Arts, where fire-blackened walls are riddled with bullet holes and rubble covers the floor, recently served as the backdrop for a new student theatre production.

The setting of the play, "Tickets and Travelers", was in keeping with the script, which portrayed Mosul's more than two-year occupation by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and the suffering of its people, until its liberation.

Written and directed by Dhafir Sabah, who teaches at the institute, the play's production team included students from various departments, including theatre, acting, music composition and calligraphy.

A limited number of seats were available due to space restrictions at the venue.

"The production was like a rehearsal for a larger arts festival that will soon take place in the city," interim head of the institute Falah Abd Hamdoun told Diyaruna.

It also reflects the determination of students and faculty to overcome challenges so the art scene and normalcy can once again reign in Mosul.

"Artistic output should not be affected by crises and wars, wherever they are," he said, adding that "the people should confront dark times by focusing on art, creativity and life, as is the case in Mosul today".

Mosul's artists return

Mosul's artists sensed the danger ISIS posed as soon as it took control of the city, and fled to safer areas, Iraqi musician Saleem Salem told Diyaruna, noting that he was in touch with several artists from the city throughout the crisis.

Many artists, musicians and playwrights have now returned after years of displacement and suffering, and are determined to bring the art scene back to life, he said, predicting that most of the rest will eventually return as well.

"I do not think the art scene will grind to a halt," he added. "On the contrary, it will be better than before, after the terrorists are defeated and eliminated."

But that does not mean it will be easy to revive, he said.

Artists in Mosul today face many challenges, including low morale, which could affect their artistic output, he said, suggesting that it may take time until artists can once again be productive.

Iraqi government support

Salem called on the Iraqi government to rebuild Mosul's damaged infrastructure of the city so that artists can work at full capacity.

"If they continue to work on top of the rubble and in these difficult conditions, this can only be seen as creativity for which they are commended," he said.

The local authority is determined to support the art scene and to resume cultural and literary events and productions in Mosul, said Ninawa provincial council member Hiyam Abdal.

Just a few days ago, Abdal said, she received a request from a group of poets to assist in organising a poetry festival in Mosul, and worked with the authorities to bring the festival to fruition.

It will begin in the next few days, with government officials in attendance.

"Despite their simplicity, the upcoming festival and other individual artistic endeavours reflect the desire of the people of Ninawa to revive the art scene, even though they fall short of what the province aspires to achieve," she said.

With the resumption of theatre at the Institute of Fine Arts, Abdal affirmed, the local authority is keen to reopen the institute at the earliest opportunity.

She was hopeful that more theatre productions would be staged there, so that the performing arts can once again be active in Mosul.

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