Paul Batou: My Art, My People.

bato1.jpgPaul Batou
My journey as an artist started during my academic study in pharmacy school. At that time, religion, the gypsy culture, writing poems, painting, and playing classical guitar become my passions and my escape from the radical society. Those hobbies provided me with the ideals that I live by and the freedom to express my self among people who fears God and pray all day.
The turning point in my search for that freedom was when I start reading and painting the Epic of Gilgamesh. That story had a major impact in my thinking as a human and as an artist. Gilgamesh, and his long journey and search for life, love, and freedom opened my mind and caused me to look back to my roots as a Mesopotamian. I became more determine to love my land and my people, and to fully understand that this is my Iraq, not owned by Shiites, Sunnis, or Kurds.
After my graduation from pharmacy school, I was drafted into the army for five years in the Iran –Iraq war. During that time, I started reading the Bible, searching for any answer to the human suffering. I wanted to further understand God, whom I felt abandoned me and my people after all the prayers, fasting, and sacrifice. Many times I would see his image or hear his voice through the crying of wounded soldiers, or over the sky when I look up while returning home. I realized that he never left me alone, but I did not fully understand him. He empowered me with all the knowledge to survive, it is my decision to start and end the war, to be rich or poor, free or captive.
In my view, God is not always generous. I can think, my eyes can see and analyze, and my hand can produce. I stopped looking into the sky asking for help. Instead, I am now searching within me and around to the big universe. I feel that I have a duty to protect the air I breath, a duty to keep the water clear and pure, a duty to plant trees, flowers, and grass in a rich soil to create beauty on earth. I must love the birds in the sky, and the animals in the wildness. I wish to gain power and knowledge to share with all humans so they can live in peace.
Freedom was the driving force for my decision to leave Iraq. In 1989 I moved with my family to the Athens and eventually the United States. In the states, I noticed that our people are shattered between Chaldean, Assyrian, Syriac, Orthodox, and Catholic. I asked myself, were do I belong? My father only told me,“ Iraq is your homeland, it was called Mesopotamia before, BET NAHRIN!” Since childhood, this phrase is still ringing in my ear.
The current war in Iraq added more pressure for the native Iraqi-Christians to reclaim their ethnic group. I found myself attempting to unite all the Christians of Iraq as one, the same way I would mix different colors to create one desired for my paintings. This was not easy at all. One day I looked at my colors in their different tubes and I told myself, “Why bother? Let them be like that, they are different like my colors. They are beautiful separately, but I also understand that by mixing I will create new beautiful and unique color.”
  I am one artist among many. I am Sumerian when I read the Epic of Gilgamesh, I am Chaldean and Babylonian when I look at the Gate of Ishtar, I am Assyrian when I think of Ashur and listen to Evin Agassi, I am Syriac when remembering the stories of genocide, and I am a Catholic or Orthodox when I read Jesus’ teachings of love.
My colors are united in one art piece reflecting the tone of the Earth, the language of the universe, the cry and pain of the oppressed people. On my canvas, the black, red and white are in harmony just like my soul. I would love my people to achieve that kind of unity.

Celebrate the art.
~Paul Batou