Soul Archive thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Ceramics, Room 146

Soul Archive

Porcelain Notebook
1982 to 1991 (made)
Place Of Origin

Porcelain notebook

object details
Object Type
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Porcelain Notebook
  • Porcelain Notebook
Additional Titles
  • also known as Book of the Ashes of Memory (assigned by artist)
  • Coma in Paradise (series title)
Materials and Techniques
Brief Description
Porcelain notebook, from the series Soul Archive by Halim Al Karim, Baghdad 1982-1991
Physical Description
Porcelain notebook
  • Length: 25.5cm
  • Width: 18cm
Object history
Halim al-Karim created nine original notebooks, one a year between 1982 and 1991. They contained his sketches and notes, which included comments on the political situation. In 1988 he graduated from the Baghdad Academy of Fine Arts, before the Iraq-Iran war ended on 8 August. He decided he did not wish to serve the Saddam Hussein regime in the War and went into hiding. He spent most of his time in a hideout he created in the desert near the Saudi border, in the area called Bahr al-Najaf. It consisted of a hole two metres deep and two metres wide covered by a dome made of grass and clay. In 1991, during the American-led invasion that followed Saddam Hussein's annexation of Kuwait, Halim was disturbed by American Apache helicopters passing overhead and decided to return to Baghdad, where he obtained fake passports for him and his family and fled to Jordan.

Before he left Baghdad, Halim decided he had to destroy his notebooks, or rather, to transform them into ceramic, he did this "to protect his testimony". Once they were transformed into ceramic, with blank pages, no agent of the Iraqi or any other government (e.g the American invaders or their allies) could alter their contents, and in doing so alter his memories. At the same time, his action protected the people who agreed to store his belongings in his absence from being implicated in his avoidance of conscription and other crimes.

The artist covered each notebook with slip, starting from the front and proceeding to the middle, he covered each folio with the slip mixture on one side. He then repeated the process from the back of the book to the middle. The books were then left to dry to leather hard stage, then they were fired to 1280 degrees in a kiln the artist constructed.

The notebooks were returned to Halim in Jordan in 2003, after the fall of Saddam Hussein. One was lost in transit, one was aquired by the National Library in Beirut, and a third by Lina Lazar.
Bibliographic Reference
Hossein Amirsadeghi, Salwa Mikdadi and Nada Shabout, eds. New Vision. Arab Contemporary Art in the 21st Century. London: Thames and Hudson, 2009 ISBN.9780500976982 (p.8, ill)
Accession Number
ME.3:1, 2-2009

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record createdApril 21, 2010
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