The Berlin-based artist Nadine Hattom left Iraq with her family as a child. She reflects on her family’s journey, identity and the ancient traditions of the Mandaean community that she grew up in. The Mandaeans are a religious group from southern Iraq whose cultural practices particularly relate to water, and who were known for their craftwork on silver. Hattom has been commissioned to create new installation work around these traditions for the forthcoming exhibition ‘Archaic,’ the Iraq Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale.
It is said that my grandfather, Ghareeb Jabur Al Saddawi, a silversmith, owned a shop on River Street in Baghdad. And every year, he made the long journey to Egypt to sell his creations.
He was so skilled that if you found one of his silver cigarette cases at the bottom of the river, the cigarettes would still be dry.
Should you happen to meet him, he would demonstrate his strength to you by lifting a cow.
He would speak to you in Arabic, English, French, German, Persian or Mandaic. And he’d sing you a song, in the most mellifluous voice. But he was also very shy, and didn’t talk much.
He would sweeten his tea with dates. And bring back gifts for all his children.
This isn’t fact or fiction. This is memory.