I vividly remember as a child, in the days before Court TV when cameras were generally not allowed in court rooms, seeing the artist’s renditions of key testimony from various trials and hearings on the evening news. I remember being so struck by how the drawings of what happened that day seemed to make it all more Real to me than the broadcasts of real trials and hearings would later seem when as now such broadcasts became ubiquitous.
Steve Mumford’s Baghdad Journal, subtitled An Artist in Occupied Iraq caught my attention the moment that I saw it. It is the first time in many years I have encountered art as journalism, and I was struck once again at how much more effective good drawings can be at conveying a reality vis a vis the endless
propaganda errr copy and film footage we have already seen regarding Iraq.
As striking as Mumford’s drawings and watercolors are, the text narrative detailing the artist’s four trips to war-torn Iraq and his interactions with military personnel, Iraqi artists and ordinary citizens as well as his fellow journalists is almost as compelling. Together the words and pictures paint a vivid portrait of the realities of life in a place that we hear a great deal of talk about but actually know very little. In his introduction, Mumford states vehemently that he has no political agenda and takes no position in any of the debates regarding the invasion or what the United States should do now. And after reading and viewing this extraordinary book I am left with the feeling that both those on the right who insist this war was necessary and must be seen through to its conclusion and those on the left who have just as stridently insisted all along that we never should have started this war and should bring our troops home immediately would do well to take a fresh look at the situation through Mumford’s art and writing.
I rather doubt the Americans lined up on either side of the Iraq questions will ever see eye to eye. But Mumford’s book would be an excellent starting place for any of them who wish to try. Very Highly Recommended.