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.

Photo courtesy of Nadine Hattom.

Photo courtesy of Nadine Hattom.

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.

Dear Jidou,

Which route did you take to Egypt? This one?


Google Maps: Drive from Mansour to Cairo.

Or this one?


Google Maps: Walk from Mansour to Cairo.

Did you gaze at this horizon?

east of um chamaine depression edge_waleed_hamed

Google Location: Anbar, Iraq. Photo by Waleed Hamed

How about this horizon?

Google Location Photo by A. Sherif.

Google Location: Red Sea, Egypt. Photo by A. Sherif.

Did you stop for a laffa (sandwich) at Happy Time restaurant?

Google Location Photo by علي علي.

Google Location: Amarah, Iraq. Photo by علي علي.

If you were still alive today, maybe you wouldn’t have to travel so far to sell your silver.

Would you have a shop at Mansour Mall?

Mansour Mall in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo by Molly Hennessy-Fisk/Los Angeles Times.

Mansour Mall in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo by Molly Hennessy-Fisk/Los Angeles Times.

I found this silver cigarette case at the bottom of the Tigris river or in an antique shop.

Did you make it?

Photo by Nadine Hattom.

Photo by Nadine Hattom.

The cigarettes were still dry.

Stock Photo by Georgii Shipin.

Stock Photo by Georgii Shipin.