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Head Trips: An Intertextual Analysis of Later Architecture and Sculpture Under Saddam Hussein

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In Iraq at the end of the twentieth century, Saddam Hussein commissioned many monuments imbued with formal and epigraphic references to distant structures and cities and to important historical figures. This intertextual networking of architecture, sculpture and personae was part of a concerted effort to bolster late Bacathist cultural-political discourses with powerful visual rhetoric. Some of the most indica-tive examples of this practice were produced in the last decade of his regime and were misidentified or destroyed shortly after the US invasion of 2003. The essay scrutinizes two sets of busts on palaces in Baghdad, and, after unravelling the meanings of their formal elements, uses these as comparative references to clarify the significance of other contemporary examples of Saddam's patronage and expand on others' analyses of earlier works as well. The examination of these monuments illustrates how Saddam sought to use cultural patronage as a means to create trans-temporal and trans-national narratives in order to stabilize his regime domestically and secure support from abroad. These conflations of historical and mythological references in sculpture and architecture could nevertheless prove susceptible to misinterpretation or be used for purposes unintended by the patron.

Keywords: Iraq; Saddam Hussein; architecture; intertextuality; sculpture; visual rhetoric

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Pepperdine University

Publication date: February 14, 2012

More about this publication?
  • The International Journal of Islamic Architecture (IJIA) is intended for those interested in urban design and planning, architecture, and landscape design in the historic Islamic world, encompassing the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, but also the more recent geographies of Islam in its global dimensions. The main emphasis is on detailed analysis of the practical, historical and theoretical aspects of architecture, with a focus on both design and its reception. The journal is also specifically interested in contemporary architecture and urban design in relation to social and cultural history, geography, politics, aesthetics, technology, and conservation. Spanning across cultures and disciplines, IJIA seeks to analyze and explain issues related to the built environment throughout the regions covered. The cross-cultural and interdisciplinary nature of this journal will significantly contribute to the knowledge in this field.
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