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May 31, 2009

American Graft


Most definitely, read the BLDGBLOG interview with Richard Mosse on his photo-documentation of Saddam’s palaces (and see his slideshow here).

In recording the fate of the palaces, Mosse’s images largely relate how these structures have turned into crash pads by and for the U.S. occupation. While the contrast between our touches and Saddam’s are curious, however, what interests me more is how the American occupation — by way of the Pottery Barn rule — has grafted America onto Iraq, embedding our fingerprints in a more psychic way.

For example, I like how this royal blue U.S. office is encased inside Al-Faw Palace like a tumor. With that metal framing and the dark blue horizontal line, the box creates its own strange, parallel and assertive dialogue with the marble lines in the floor and the swirling geometry of the ceiling. And then, notice how Saddam’s chandelier echoes the circular emblem of American mission and corp.

The space is neither “ours” nor “theirs” anymore, but some new mutation.

(image: Richard Mosse, Al-Faw Palace, Camp Victory, Baghdad, Iraq 2009)

  • margaret

    Let us not forget that we are the Romans of this Century…the ones, as in the “decline and Fall” of. They imposed their architecture onto the cultures they invaded and conquered. I disagree with the fine photographer about why the “victors” should occupy Saddam’s palaces. It is the modus operandi of all conquerors to impose their presence onto existing icons of power.
    Unfortunately, our “breaches,” esthetically, are not up to the standards of the Roman. However, the graffiti echo theirs: individual soldiers stating their individuality as part of an anonymous hoard which represents an army. The depersonalization of man.

  • Thirdeye Pushpin

    I can not help but see the picture’s point of view as that of a cultural vulva looking at the end station of rape.

  • ggb

    I get a very uneasy feeling looking at these pictures. Regardless of whether the soldiers need a place to make camp, I find the photos almost vulgar. As I looked at them, I could barely get the words Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, out of my mind. But for the lies of these men and lady, the real villains, these palaces would still be beautifying the country. Bush said in his visit here to Toronto, where he shared the stage in a “debate” (isn’t that rich?) with Clinton, that he felt he did the right thing in removing Saddam Hussein and the world was a safer place for it. I beg to differ. The world would be a safer place today if Bush had not stolen both elections. Who really is the criminal?

  • ratfood

    Easy to understand why the occupying force set up headquarters in Saddam’s palaces. They were constructed as fortresses to protect tyrants from an oppressed and angry populace.

  • lytom

    The contrast is clear, no matter how you want to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Empire’s art – vandalism is no match for Iraq culture! The arrogance is overwhelming and signifies there will come time to pay up.

  • Steve in Los Angeles

    Sorry this is a bit off topic, but I’m wondering if BAGnewNotes has any interest in this photo that was featured on the New York Times front page on Saturday, May 30, 2009?
    Two “opposition” presidents who really aren’t oppositional? Bush and Clinton apparently had a love feast as they relaxed in their overstuffed easy chairs and covered each other’s backs during their joint appearance (each paid $150,000).
    Given the US power elite “clubiness” evident in this photograph, does anyone think there’s ANY chance that Bush will be even investigated about war crimes much less prosecuted? His best bud Bill would surely testify in Bush’s defense.

  • Wayne Dickson

    My immediate impression was the opposite of Margaret’s. I was thinking about how the wandering Germanic tribes used to build temporary shelters within Roman ruins.
    And speaking of fortresses? U.S. Embassy in Baghdad?

  • stevelaudig

    Graft as in “new growth” on old? or graft as in corruption? Or both I suppose. The corruption of the occupation is matched only by the incompetence of the occupiers which is matched only by the deceit of Bush and Company which is only exceeded by the human suffering inflicted upon an innocent population. Hilary voted for the war. I wonder if she ever looks back. I get the feeling that the Clintons have cars with no rear view mirrors. Aside William Jefferson Clinton, George Walker Bush. It’s the “Bill and George” Show. But it could be the W and “W” Show too. This is just the first episode. More will be inflicted upon us.

  • Michael Shaw (The BAG)

    Steve, I think I’ll offer it up as a “Your Turn.” Maybe it’s those chairs….

  • Diggitt

    Saddam’s palaces have impressed me for their total lack of a unifying aesthetic. He (or his decorators) went for ostentation rather than splendor, opulence, elegance, or any number of more pleasing qualities.
    Remove the American obtrusion from the pictured scene and what do you have? An echoing space far too expansive for its shallow height. Detail by detail, the place could have been lifted from a pricey store at a New Jersey mall. I wouldn’t want to live in Buckingham Palace either, but at least its use and design of space makes sense.
    Which is one reason I can’t get carried away with concepts about, for instance, rape. It would be rape to do this at Monticello or Versailles or Angkor Wat — but here, it’s one bureaucracy on top of another.
    In a sense, I rather like the message it sends: Americans have no emperors. Sometimes, logistically, there are good reasons for the victorious general to move into the digs of the defeated one. I would be really creeped out if Americans were using Saddam’s palaces exactly as they were, lounging at his desk, smoking his cigars, and so on. I am sure there were moments like that — if you were a conqueror, wouldn’t you do it for a while? — but the Americanness of this cheers me the more I think about it.
    And note that at some future point the intrusive prefab can be removed and the Iraqi people will have their palace back relatively unchanged.

  • Vulture Breath

    It’s just a big tranny mess.

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