Do you know what sorrow the rain can inspire?
Do you know how gutters weep when it pours down?
Do you know how lost a solitary person feels in the rain?
Endless, like spilt blood, like hungry people, like love,
Like children, like the dead, endless the rain.
As a schoolboy in Baghdad in the 1970s Mohammed Al Shammarey was required to memorize lines of poetry by Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, a 20th century Iraqi writer little known in the West but celebrated throughout the Arab world. Al-Sayyab's most famous poem, Rain Song, was important for its innovations both formal and thematic--its experimentation with free verse; its revival of ancient mythic imagery of life, death and renewal; its melding of political and personal tragedy. The schoolboy Al Shammarey, called by his teacher to recite the memorized stanzas of Rain Song, was not moved: "For a young child," he recalls, "this was just homework." But to the adult Al Shammarey, who served in the Iraqi army during the Iran-Iraq and Gulf wars, who witnessed the current war's daily reality of "bodies in the streets" of his beloved Baghdad, who left his homeland for exile first in Jordan and then in the United States, Rain Song was "prophetic."
For this exhibition at Juniata College Al Shammarey created paintings, prints and video art responding to the beautiful and sorrowful Rain Song. A selftaught artist, Al Shammarey relies on both nature and technology in his work: paintings for this show were placed outside to be altered in unpredictable ways by rainfall; these images were digitalized and reduced; Arabic calligraphy was put on by hand; the images again went through a process of digitalizing and ink jet printing. Within the pain of exile, Al Shammarey says, "the computer and I form some sort of a constantly-occupied community."
Al Shammarey has exhibited his work widely in the Middle East and in group shows at the British Museum, Columbia University and the Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston; this is his first solo exhibition in the U.S.
Image: Mohammed Al Shammarey, from Rain Song series, giclée printed on Epson textured fine art paper, 2010, 43 ¼" x 35 ¾". Image courtesy of the artist.