Volume 16 • Issue 23 | November 4 - 10, 2003


“Shocked and Awed,”
a collection of drawings by Iraqi schoolchildren
Runs thru Dec. 28
The Puffin Gallery 435 Broome Street
Gallery hours: Wed.-Sun. 1-7 p.m. 212-343-2881

Wartime drawings by Iraqi kids in SoHo

By John Arbucci

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Filmmaker Patrick Dillon with children’s artwork he smuggled out of Iraq. On display at The Puffin Gallery on Broome St.

Anyone who would like to know what the invasion of Iraq looked like to the children of Baghdad only has to travel as far as an art gallery in Soho.

“Shocked and Awed,” a collection of 76 drawings by Iraqi schoolchildren, is on display at The Puffin Room on Broome Street. An American filmmaker smuggled the drawings out of Iraq in June. The children drew those pictures after he asked them to show him what they had seen during the bombing and invasion of Baghdad. They drew things that no parent wants to display on a refrigerator door. They drew windows into the horror of war.

The drawings depict tanks thundering down streets, airplanes dropping missiles from the sky, and soldiers shooting each other on the ground. Some show buildings on fire, the air filled with smoke. Many of the children sketched crying women or girls, some holding their hands in the air, as if trying to surrender.

And in one stark drawing, the Tigris River flows red with blood.

A chance encounter between two New Yorkers this past April led to this unusual and chilling art exhibit.

One of the men, Patrick Dillon, 52, has worked as a filmmaker, carpenter and in building restoration. When it became apparent to him that the United States would go to war with Iraq, he decided to make a documentary film about the coming war from inside Iraq.

He used a grass-roots approach to fund the film.

“I went to everyone I knew and said, ‘Give me $100,’” he said. He made them shareholders in his film, and went to Baghdad for two months.

He left Iraq in March, after being detained several times by the Iraqi secret police, he said. While being held for the third time, he escaped after an American bomb destroyed part of the detention center where he was being held. He took advantage of the confusion to escape. Hurrying to his hotel, he collected his belongings and returned to the United States.

Once home, he was out of money, and disturbed by what he saw on the news.

“It wasn’t the war I has just crawled out of,” he said. “It seemed beautiful in a weird way. It was clean and sanitized.”

He started fundraising again so he could return to Iraq and continue making his film, to be called “Raining Planes.”

It was during this second round of fundraising that he spoke with Carl Rosenstein, the director of The Puffin Room, a non-profit art gallery. Dillon told Rosenstein where he had been and what he had been up to.

During their discussion, Rosenstein thought back to an exhibition he had put on three years earlier. In it, drawings by children who lived through the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia were displayed side-by-side with drawings by children who had become refugees during the Spanish Civil War. Rosenstein wanted Dillon to do more than make a movie while he was in Iraq.

“I said, ‘Wow! Get me children’s drawings, we’ll do a show,’” said Rosenstein.

Rosenstein wanted to display children’s drawings, he said, because they are “innocent expressions” and not influenced by politics and ideology.

The two men went to an art supply store and bought paper, crayons, colored pencils and markers. Rosenstein commissioned the drawings for $500.

Armed with money, digital videotape and art supplies, Dillon returned to Iraq.

His interpreter, Hayder Mousa, took him to the Assail Primary School in Baghdad. Dillon describes the school as having been so badly looted that even the windows had been stolen. He gained the trust of the school’s teachers and students with the help of Mousa, who has a child in the school.

Through Mousa, Dillon told the students what he wanted.

“I said, ‘What happened to you or your family?’” Dillon said. “‘What happened outside your house? What did you see? That’s what I want you to draw.’”

During the next month, the children produced 76 drawings.

“The teacher conveyed that they would be seen by Americans,” Dillon said. “That it would be their way to talk to the American people.”

The children’s pictures will have to do the talking for them. When asked to write a narrative to accompany their illustrations, the children declined, Dillon said. They were afraid of what might happen should Saddam Hussein return to power.

Even without words, the drawings clearly express not only the fears, but also the keen observations of children who have been engulfed by war.

In one picture, American and Iraqi tanks face off in the street while children lie in puddles of blood.

In another, a large vehicle emblazoned with the letters “TV” dominates the center of the image. In front of the vehicle, a blonde woman in western clothes carries a television camera and a handbag. Behind the vehicle stands a masked gunman with a rifle.

At least one picture, however, carries a message of hope. In it, two smiling clouds float side-by-side in front of a shining sun. An American flag hovers underneath one cloud, an Iraqi flag below the other.

And linking the two clouds together is a rainbow.


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