by Hussain Muttar from Baghdad
A Thousand and One Stories
Hussain was born from a Baghdadi family in the southern city of Samawa in 1998. He completed high school in Baghdad, and is now studying Civil Engineering at the University of Baghdad.
The idea for his project came to him in 2016 by coincidence when his friend took a photo of him on top of a church dome in Baghdad. At the time, he didn’t know much about the place. Later, while searching for more information, he came upon a similar photo in 1918 of a British Army officer standing in the very same place. Hussain thus started a photo comparison project, which, instead of directly relating what happened to architecture in Baghdad as a story might, shows the photos to people, allowing them to form their own opinions and views. Instead of organising talks by engineers and architecture, he engages the public in speaking about the architecture around them. For Hussain, the focus should be on the people and how they want the architecture to be in their city.
With the help of local people who supported him and provided him with relevant information, Hussain searched for the locations of different old photos. The main locations were close to Al-Rashid Street in Baghdad. Some photos required months of research because he wanted to live the story and get the information first hand. He lived these stories for seven months, getting a feel for the location and how people viewed and lived in these places themselves. For Hussain, this was a journey between the past and present.
The project is mainly about how architecture affects society. Hussain says that architecture changes people’s personality; when buildings change or undergo demolition, old architecture remains in people’s hearts and memories.
One of the exhibits was a huge photo placed on the wall of a building on Al-Rashid Street during the Baghdad Walk festival, a large festival in 2018. As they walked through the area, people could admire the photos and have their backstories explained to them. Another exhibition was presented at TEDx in Baghdad in 2018. The public response was very positive, and Hussain says he never felt so supported in his life. He is indebted to all the support he received from people who helped him recover all the information and photos, which are now included in a book. Hussain performs public presentations on these stories of old architecture in Baghdad.
The project demonstrates what is like to live within the ruins of Baghdad and Iraq, more broadly. By searching for past architecture, Hussain hopes to restore its significance to the present and give people the hope to reconnect with their past and build a better future.