Newsweek on Steve Mumford's BAGHDAD JOURNAL

“The War in Watercolor” / Periscope / Elise Soukup / September 19, 2005

Steve Mumford was hidden behind a wall in Baghdad when the sniper began shooting. But the New York City artist didn't draw a weapon: he drew a picture. "That's one of my favorite paintings," he says. "The bullets were flying, but as I continued to draw, the sniping gradually died down. And then a group of Iraqi boys came out and watched me work." His picture depicts a bullet-ridden street lined with armed American soldiers and a lone Iraqi woman, head covered, making her way home.

That's just one drawing in "Baghdad Journal: An Artist In Occupied Iraq," an arresting new book that showcases dozens of Mumford's paintings, mostly watercolors, alongside snippets from the journal he kept during the 10 months in 2003 and '04 he spent documenting the war in Iraq. On first look, the understated pictures—a soldier on guard duty, a line of handcuffed Iraqi suspects, a woman and her son waiting as their house is searched—don't stand out from the photographs that come out of Iraq each day. But the fact that they're paintings seems to give them emotional weight; they feel intimate, personal—yet surprisingly apolitical. "When I'd read reporters' accounts of the war, they always seem to have this simplistic message of 'thumbs up or thumbs down.' I kept thinking I would develop some overarching view," Mumford says. But Mumford, who went into Iraq opposed to America's decision to go to war, found that his position softened somewhat as he painted his subjects, who represented a spectrum of attitudes. By the time he left, he no longer saw Iraq in black or white—and his work is all the more colorful because of it.

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