New York Times Thinks Iraq's Makeover Looks Totally Tacky


After years of having drab colors and building regulations foisted on them by Saddam Hussein’s government, the Iraqi people are now free to decorate as they see fit. The New York Times reports that this has given rise to some really unusual color choices for buildings. In other words, it’s the ugliest effing country they’ve ever seen.

It’s interesting to learn that Iraq has exploded in a “riot of color,” now that the government isn’t mandating that most buildings be made of beige brick, with color usually reserved for mosques. However, the Times reports this in the bitchiest way possible. As Reason notes, opening is particularly stunning:

In downtown Baghdad, a police headquarters has been painted two shades of purple: lilac and grape. The central bank, a staid building in many countries, is coated in bright red candy cane stripes.
Multicolored fluorescent lights cover one of the city’s bridges, creating a Hawaiian luau effect. Blast walls and security checkpoints stick out because they are often painted in hot pink.
Baghdad has weathered invasion, occupation, sectarian warfare and suicide bombers. But now it faces a new scourge: tastelessness.
Iraqi artists and architecture critics who shudder at each new pastel building blame a range of factors for Baghdad’s slide into tackiness: including corruption and government ineptitude, as well as everyday Iraqis who are trying to banish their grim past and are unaccustomed to having the freedom to choose any color they want.

The Times does plenty of reporting on major events in Iraq, and it’s fine to focus briefly on a less serious issue facing the country. But doesn’t jokingly referencing tastelessness as a “scourge” akin to “invasion, occupation, sectarian warfare and suicide bombers,” also display a massive lack of taste?

But wait, we haven’t even gotten to the racist bits! The piece goes on to suggest that Iraqis are using all the wrong colors because they’re a primitive people with no right to decide for themselves what’s aesthetically pleasing. Allow Caecilia Pieri, the condescending author of Baghdad Arts Deco: Architectural Brickwork 1920-1950 to explain:

“It’s happening because Iraqis want to get rid of the recent past … They see the colors as a way of expressing something new, but they don’t know which colors to use. The Arab mentality is that you have to be the owner of your building, and you do what you want with it. But there are no government regulations like in Paris or Rome. It’s anarchy of taste.”

The problem is these simple folk no longer have “central arbiter” to dictate everything down to shrub placement in the capital. Najem al-Kinany, an official in the Baghdad mayor’s office who’s in charge of design, says, “Before 2003, the subject of public taste and choosing what was appropriate was much better than now.” Say what you will about Hussein murdering and torturing his own people, but the man knew how to decorate!

Or, to be more precise, he knew that a poor man like himself had no business weighing in on what his surroundings should look like. The Times reports:

Mowaffaq al-Taey, who designed many buildings for Mr. Hussein, and Mr. [Qasim] Sabti, the artist, blame the decline in taste on the fact that so many Iraqis appreciated the arts were wealthy enough to flee the country.
“Right now, when I have an exhibition at my gallery nobody comes from the government, only the art students and other artists,” Mr. Sabti said. “Taking care of the look of the city has stopped because the people who have come to power were living in villages with animals. So how did they develop their taste?
“Saddam was also a villager,” he continued, “but he was smart enough to depend on the qualified and professional people who understood art.”
Mr. Taey said Iraqis were emulating the architects and designers of the Persian Gulf region.
“They are trying to show they are part of the sophisticated world, but they don’t know what they are doing,” he said. “They want to prove that they are not just from the countryside.”

Iraqis, it’s definitely time to knock it off with the joyful redecoration and listen to what your betters have to say. Though Qasim Sabti’s Mean Girls put down is missing some panache, he’d like you to know that you’re embarassing yourselves and, “It is the ugliest the city has ever been.”

As Baghdad Erupts In Riot of Color, Calls To Tone It Down [NYT]
New York Times: Those Silly Arabs! They Don’t Even Know What Colors to Use! [Reason]

Image via Marcio Jose Bastos Silva/Shutterstock.

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