Saleem Al-Bahloly

Saleem Al-Bahloly 1024 731 Tom Carlson

Postdoctoral Scholar, Santa Barbara



Saleem Al-Bahloly

For several years now, I have been studying different forms of art practice that emerged in Iraq during the twentieth-century in relation to the trajectory of leftist politics. I have come to focus on the aftermath of a coup by the Baʿath Party, in 1963, when the persecution of leftists prompted a number of writers and artists to turn away from the critical vocabulary propagated by the Iraqi Communist Party, and to develop a new vocabulary in their practice. In a book I am writing about this moment, I explore what the artwork can offer at the limit of leftist politics, and in particular how it can open a horizon beyond liberalism, by re-activating forms and concepts sourced from the history of religious traditions.

The remarkable influence of American literature, especially the work of T. S. Eliot, at this time in Iraq, when form was being rethought in response to the collapse of leftist politics, has drawn my attention back to the United States. At HSC Santa Barbara, I am working on a project about the relationship between language and emotion, and how shifts in that relationship over the course of three centuries have shaped the political life of this country.

I received a PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley in 2015; and an AB in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 2005. Before coming to Santa Barbara, I was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and a fellow in the EUME research program at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin. In 2016 I worked with the curator Catherine David to develop parts of my dissertation into a retrospective of the artist Dia al-Azzawi at the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha. The gallery guide from that show can be viewed here; the full catalog is available on Amazon.


“History Regained: a Modern Artist in Baghdad Encounters a Lost Tradition of Painting,” Muqarnas 35 (2018): 229-272.

Msalkha, or the Anti-Nude.” In Art, Awakening and Modernity in the Middle East: the Arab Nude, ed. Octavian Esanu (London, 2018), 129-138.

“The Persistence of the Image: Dhakira Hurra in Dia Azzawi’s Drawings on the Massacre of Tel al-Zaatar,” ARTMargins 2:2 (2013): 71-97.