Artist of the Month: Bassim Al-Shaker

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Iraqi artist Bassim Al-Shaker paints scenes of (im)migration.

Bassim Al-Shaker stands with his arms crossed for a photograph, but the Iraqi artist is anything but closed off when discussing art or his homeland. Ask him questions and, suddenly, it’s like windows have blown open and a gust of wind carries the soft-spoken voice of the bearded, Baghdad-born 31-year-old, who now resides in Phoenix.

Al-Shaker, who teaches drawing at Phoenix College, has had much to say since his “academic realist” oil paintings became world-famous following a 2013 exhibition at the prestigious international juried art show Venice Biennale in Italy. A graduate of the University of Baghdad’s College of Fine Arts, Al-Shaker (his full name is pronounced bah-sum el-shay-keer) arrived in the U.S. that same year as a resident artist at the ASU Art Museum.

Al-Shaker says his life in Iraq, marred by the Saddam Hussein regime and ISIS brutality but blessed by his Sumerian countryside roots, heavily influences his work.

“I have so many things in my mind… I feel it will never stop,” he says. He paints “to take the inside outside.” What sounds like anxiety shows up on the canvas like philosophy. Big ideas become relatable stories, including a painting called “Migration,” a colorful depiction of people fleeing. It doesn’t matter who or from where, he says. “They are still alive and able to go.”

His latest work involves a series of eight large-scale paintings he’s been conceiving since he left Iraq. He expects to complete the series by December and hopes to exhibit it internationally.View more at

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