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Nada Shabout

Treasure Hunt

The 2003 war in Iraq left more than human casualties. Also lost were thousands of pieces of modern Iraqi art.

“With the loss of the works themselves and chaos in the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art and Baghdad in general, there was a direct and real fear of losing the history of the art since it was neither written nor documented,” says Nada Shabout, who earned four degrees at UT Arlington, including a humanities Ph.D. in 1999.

So she embarked on a mission to collect information on the lost works through intensive research and interviews with artists, museum personnel, and art gallery owners. The result is the recently launched Modern Art Iraq Archive. The website, artiraq.org/maia, makes the works available as an open access database to raise public awareness and encourage interested individuals to help document the museum’s original and lost holdings.

Dr. Shabout, an art history professor at the University of North Texas, received two fellowships from the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq to conduct the first phase of data collection. In 2009 she teamed with colleagues at the Alexandria Archive Institute in California to win a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities to create the Modern Art Iraq Archive.

“The goal of the archive is first and foremost to provide a record of Iraq’s modern art for the Iraqi people specifically and for humanity in general,” she says. “Secondly, it is to provide access to modern Iraqi works of art and related text for researchers and art historians.”

The daughter of an Iraqi father and Palestinian mother, Shabout credits UT Arlington College of Liberal Arts Dean Beth Wright with nurturing her passion. “Many at other institutions had discouraged my pursuit,” she says, “but not Dean Wright.”

artwork from the Modern Art Iraq Archive

After the 2003 war in Iraq, Nada Shabout ’99 embarked on a mission to collect information on thousands of pieces of lost modern art. The result was the Modern Art Iraq Archive, which provides a record of the works and makes them available as an open access database.

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