Iraqi intellectual and artistic life essentially ceased to exist under the relentless grip of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime. If you weren't willing to paint glowing images of the despot, you simply weren't allowed to be an artist in Iraq, and many people fled the country as a result.
Halim Al-Karim is among that banished elite: After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad, he left for Jordan, turning his back on his homeland. Once he was free to practice his art as he pleased, his star immediately rose, lifted on the merits of his ambitious content-charged, sculpture-based installations.
Passage to Sumer, an exhibit of Al-Karim's work, opens today at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street. The artist has suspended a roomful of painted panels, through which glides a thirty-foot-long unfired ceramic ship, held together precariously by fiber shreds. The installation is his way of bypassing the pain of exile by traveling back through history to ancient Sumeria and the fertile crescent. "I was stripped of my humanity in this life, but I have retrieved what is more sublime, more noble, through my dreams," Al-Karim explains in his artist statement. "Through my art works, I share my dreams with you."
Art of the Matter
Until recently, the state of the Oriental Theatre was no laughing matter. But then new owners rehabilitated the circa-1927 structure at 4335 West 44th Avenue, replacing the stage just last week. And a new partner brought with him not just resources, but the Northwest Denver Comedy Festival, which takes that stage at 8 p.m. After contacting the Oriental to book the show, Scott LaBarbera, who was in the mortgage business, decided to partner up with the theater's owners. "I'm looking to get more into the artistic side of the world," he says.
Tonight's artistry includes three comics from Highland -- Matt Vogl, Gretchen Hess and Phil Porter -- as well as Chris Atencio, Mike Long and Westword's own Adam Cayton-Holland. Even LaBarbera may tell a joke or two. These days, there's plenty to smile about at the Oriental. For tickets, $6 in advance or $8 at the door, visit www.orientaltheatre.net. -- Patricia Calhoun
Start the Presses
Why prints? For the art collector, they're an affordable boon that feeds the collecting fire; for the artist, they present a grand new experiment to tackle. The artistic diversity made possible by printmaking is celebrated this summer by Five Presses: Selected Works, a new exhibit at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. The show features prints by 75 artists working with five printers scattered throughout mid-America: Colorado's Anderson Ranch and Shark's Ink.; Hand Graphics of Santa Fe; Segura Publishing Company of Mesa, Arizona; and White Wings Press out of Chicago. All were chosen for their high technical standards and forward-looking collaborative codes.
Five Presses opens with a reception tonight from 7 to 9 p.m. and continues through August 28 at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard in Arvada; solo shows by Donald Quade and Chuck McCoy are also on view. For more information, call 720-898-7200 or visit www.arvadacenter.org. -- Susan Froyd