"I still dream of Iraq. Dreaming and imagining a beautiful life, full of colors, happiness and spontaneity." — Khalid Alaani
Artist Khalid Alaani fled Iraq at the height of the war in 2006, spending six years as a refugee in Syria before coming to the United States this past June.
His paintings are on display in a new exhibition called "Iraqi Artists in Exile" at the New Theme Gallery in Los Angeles. The exhibition features artwork by Alaani and other Iraqi artists who fled the war.
Alex Cohen spoke with Alaani about his paintings and his decision to leave Iraq and start a new life.
When did you being painting?
"Actually when I was [a] kid. I grew up in a family that really appreciated art and culture. My parents, especially my father, encouraged me to improve myself in this field. I have maybe two or three cousins who are artists also so I think it is kind of genetic."
You left Iraq in 2006. Why did you decide to leave?
"This is a big question. We all [heard] about what is happening in Iraq at that time. It was a very bad situation there, so many killing, so many explosions. I lost so many friends so me and my family we decided to leave Iraq at that time."
Tell us about some of your paintings. Let's look at one called "Sound of Children".
"This is one of my favorite paintings. It is my memories of when I was a kid. We usually go to the countryside in the summer where there is a river, the Euphrates river. Usually, we jump in this river with shouting and with laughing. This painting shows children jumping in a river in the abstract. There is a pink river. There is much more laughing and shouting in this painting."
Let's look at another, called "Smell of Wind".
"I tried to be a philospher here. When there is a wind you can smell the scent of trees. The scent of the water. The scent of flowers. And this scent usually gives me a good sensation because it is the scent of nature. I tried to play on the scense of smelling by showing it. I tried to be more philosopher here."
Your paintings are on display at the New Theme Gallery. What are you hoping that visitors who see your work take away from it?
"People hear so many (things) about Iraq and so many (things ) about the Iraq war and Iraqis but I don't think they saw much about Iraq art. This is a good opportunity for us, the Iraqi artists and also for the Americans to see the art of that country. I wish the audience enjoys the painting and sees what we tried to show them about Iraq life, Iraq love and the people there."