Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Iraqi artist inspired by George W Bush shoe thrower

By Catriona Davies, CNN
April 24, 2012 -- Updated 0912 GMT (1712 HKT)
Images of Hanaa' Malallah's shoes appear in many of her artworks, including being embroidered in "USA Heritage Flag," from 2012. Malallah is fascinated with the 2008 incident when an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at former President George W. Bush. "Shoes are our way of resistance," said Malallah. Images of Hanaa' Malallah's shoes appear in many of her artworks, including being embroidered in "USA Heritage Flag," from 2012. Malallah is fascinated with the 2008 incident when an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at former President George W. Bush. "Shoes are our way of resistance," said Malallah.
"U.S.A Heritage Flag" by Hanaa' Malallah
"Photo Op" by kennardphillipps
"I.W.M.D" by Hanaa' Malallah
"My Country Map" by Hanaa' Malallah
"Presidential Seal" by kennardphillipps
"Figurative, Abstract" by Hanaa' Malallah
"George Bush, a Portrait" by kennardphillipps
  • Hanaa' Malallah says she left Iraq in 2006 after receiving threats from militias
  • Inspired by Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George W. Bush, she says shoes are her "resistance"
  • She has joint exhibition with British duo kennardphillipps

Editor's note: Each month, Inside the Middle East takes you behind the headlines to see a different side of this diverse region. Follow us on on Twitter: Presenter Rima Maktabi: @rimamaktabi, producer Jon Jensen: @jonjensen and writer Cat Davies @catrionadavies

London (CNN) -- To Iraqi artist Hanaa' Malallah her shoes are weapons of mass destruction that appear in many of her works.

Her inspiration is an incident in 2008, when Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at former president George W. Bush, five years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The invasion was aimed at rooting out Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, but U.S. inspectors eventually conceded that he did not have any.

Malallah's exhibition, "Iraq -- How, Where, For Whom?" held jointly with the British duo kennardphillipps, opens in London on Friday April 20.

Shoes are our way of resistance. It's all we have.
Hanaa' Malallah

Her shoes appear in a photograph labeled I.W.M.D (Iraq's Weapon's of Mass Destruction). They are also embroidered on an American flag, on an Iraqi flag, and the originals are in a glass display case.

"They are my shoes," said Malallah. "I bought them after I arrived in Britain and I used them for three years."

She added: "Shoes are our way of resistance. It's all we have. My resistance is through art."

Malallah, formerly a university art lecturer in Baghdad, says she left Iraq in late 2006 after two of her colleagues were killed and she received threats from militias. She now lives in Britain.

"They started to kill a lot of academics," she said. "I was a woman without a headscarf, teaching in the university and I received threats, so I had to leave.

"Two months after I left, a group of militias entered my home and stole everything. My sister called to say my flat had gone.

"I don't have anyone left there now and I think I would lose my life just like that if I went back. It's hard. There are no words to describe it, so I use my art to explain."

Also on Inside the Middle East: Can Baghdad be beautiful again?

Malallah said her art reflects three decades of living with war in Iraq, from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s through the first Gulf War in 1991 and subsequent sanctions, to the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 and the chaos that followed.

Much of her work uses what she describes as the "ruins technique," using burnt fabric to depict destruction, often on abstract canvases.

She said she experienced the war by "tasting" it, as there was no electricity or media to provide information.

I received threats, so I had to leave.
Hanaa' Malallah

Describing life in Baghdad since 1991, Malallah said: "Baghdad was heavily bombed in the First Gulf War. It was hell out of the world. I saw destruction every day and I lived with death every day.

"There was a shortage of food, water and electricity, but you have to survive. Many managed to survive and a lot didn't. Three of my students were killed working in the artistic area.

"I speak to my colleagues by phone and there are still big problems and people dying every day for lots of reasons."

She added: "I hated Saddam Hussein, but we were better off than now. At least there was a government. If we want to remove a dictator, we have to do it by ourselves."

Malallah's work is shown alongside that of the British duo kennardphillipps, Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps, who started collaborating in late 2002 in opposition to the proposed invasion of Iraq.

"We were going on all the anti-war demos, but it was evident the invasion was going to happen anyway and we wanted to find another way to protest against it," said Phillipps.

They create work from media images of the war, such as photo montages and collages from newspaper clippings.

Their most famous work, a photomontage called "Photo Op," is a digitally altered image that shows a smiling Tony Blair, the British prime minister at the time of the invasion, in front of an explosion.

Also on Inside the Middle East: Artists use email scams to scoop prize

Another, called "Presidential Seal," shows the American president's empty podium, with the microphones pointing to a backdrop of newspaper clippings and photos which have been smashed with a hammer, creating an impression of debris and chaos.

Malallah hopes the exhibition will eventually be shown in Iraq. She said most professional artists had fled the country, leaving a dearth of new talent.

"It's a very bad situation for artists in Iraq at the moment," said Malallah. "They have no contact with the outside world.

"There are a lot of good artists who have left the country and it has really affected those who are left."

"Iraq -- How, Where, For Whom?" opens at The Mosaic Rooms, in London, on Friday April 20 and runs until June 8, 2012.

Part of complete coverage on
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 0237 GMT (1037 HKT)
Explore the attitudes to Hollywood films from six different countries in the region.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 0940 GMT (1740 HKT)
Saudi Arabia is set to start construction on the world's tallest tower that will be one kilometer tall.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 0244 GMT (1044 HKT)
You'll never guess where this record-breaking mural is.
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 0255 GMT (1055 HKT)
The Sea of Gallilee, where Christ reputedly walked on water, is today home to another miracle of sorts.
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
In Syria, not all rebels carry guns, some carry cameras.
April 4, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
For three decades or so, Syrian artist Safwan Dahoul has been painting pensive, haunting images -- all of which are titled "Dream".
April 3, 2014 -- Updated 0323 GMT (1123 HKT)
Before releasing an album most bands would talk about record sales. Egyptian band Cairokee talk about whether they will get arrested.
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 0404 GMT (1204 HKT)
Dubai's most impressive monuments are looking a little psychedelic this week.
March 20, 2014 -- Updated 0224 GMT (1024 HKT)
Volunteers and academics in exile hope The Free Syrian University can save a lost generation of students.
March 20, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
What would classic Hollywood films look like if reimagined as tradtional Ottoman art?
March 17, 2014 -- Updated 1050 GMT (1850 HKT)
Nawal Ba Abbad on why its time to stop child marriage in Yemen.