Hundreds of lost works of art from the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad are documented in a new database that became publicly accessible this spring, thanks to seven years of research led by Nada Shabout, associate professor of art history and a leading expert on modern Iraqi art.
Called the Modern Art Iraq Archive, the database has become one of the most comprehensive collections of information about the artworks, many of which disappeared from the museum after looting following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The archive contains about 460 artworks and about 230 documents related to the art, including catalogs, articles, letters and sketches.
“Few of the lost works of art have been recovered, but having information about them in this database is the next best thing,” Shabout says. “Otherwise, it’s as if they never existed — and a large part of modern Iraqi culture would be lost.”
Shabout plans to expand the database to include even more modern Iraqi artworks from the late 19th century to the 1990s — not just those from the museum. The open-access database is designed so that members of the general public can contribute images and information. She is still seeking information about many of the works, including their whereabouts and original location in the museum.
Shabout, a former Iraqi resident, has interviewed artists, museum personnel and gallery owners in her search for information. She received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Service to create the database, which is a joint effort of UNT, the Alexandria Archive Institute and the School of Information at UC-Berkeley.