Thursday, January 29, 2009
BAGHDAD – When an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at George W. Bush last month at a Baghdad press conference, the attack spawned a flood of Web quips, political satire and street rallies across the Arab world.
Now it's inspired a work of art.
A sofa-sized sculpture — a single copper-coated shoe on a stand carved to resemble flowing cloth — was formally unveiled to the public Thursday in the hometown of the late Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.
Officials and visitors walked around the outdoor sculpture during the brief ceremony, pondering on its eccentricities — such as a tree poking up from the shoe's interior.
Its sculptor called it a fitting tribute to the shoe hurler, Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi, and his folk hero reputation in parts of the Muslim world and beyond.
The Baghdad-based artist, Laith al-Amari, said the work honors al-Zeidi and "is a source of pride for all Iraqis." He added: "It's not a political work,"
But its location in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, about 80 miles north of Baghdad, is a point of reference for prewar nostalgia among some Iraqis.
The sculpture also includes an ode to al-Zeidi and mentions the virtues of being "able to tell the truth out loud."
Al-Zeidi had shouted in Arabic as he pulled off his shoes and heaved them at Bush during the news conference. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq," screamed al-Zeidi, who was working for a Cairo-based television station.
Bush dodged both shoes, but the image was extremely powerful in Arab culture, where throwing shoes at someone is a sign of extreme contempt. Iraqis whacked a toppled statue of Saddam following the U.S.-led invasion with their shoes and slippers.
"This monument ... will remain a present for the forthcoming generations," said Fatin Abdul-Qadir al-Nasiri, director of a Tikrit orphanage whose children helped fashion the sculpture. "(They) will remember the story of the hero (al-Zeidi) who bid farewell to the U.S. president ... in such a way.
Al-Zeidi was scheduled to face trial last month on a charge of assaulting a foreign leader, but the court date was postponed after his attorney filed a motion to reduce the charges.
On Monday, Swiss lawyer Mauro Poggia said al-Zeidi planned to seek political asylum in Switzerland, but one of al-Zeidi's brothers denied the report.