The Traditional Crafts of Iraq
Iraq has a rich tradition of craft activity, which can be traced from ancient times through the present day. This diverse craft sector encompasses urban and rural environments, the latter including the unique material culture of the marshlands at the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Iraq made particularly significant contributions to the evolution of Islamic art from the eighth century onward. The workshops of Basra produced pioneering pottery, glass, and metalwork during the early Abbasid period (late eighth-tenth centuries), while Mosul was a centre for artistic experimentation, most notably inlaid metalwork, during the early thirteenth century. The great Abbasid city of Samarra provides evidence for innovations in architecture and architectural decoration in the ninth century. The monumental architecture of Iraq provides evidence of further inventiveness in subsequent centuries, including early manifestations of the muqarnas vault and complex forms of geometric ornament. Calligraphy underwent important changes in Baghdad during the tenth and eleventh centuries, and the city was also a centre for manuscript painting in later times. This rich artistic heritage was extensively referenced by the influential Baghdad Modern Art Group, established in 1951, and continues to resonate among artists and artisans through the present day.
In more recent times warfare, political instability, economic factors, and competition from mass-produced goods (local and imported) have all placed considerable pressure on the manual crafts, leading many to decline or disappear. In some regions archaeological sites have been looted and historic monuments destroyed. The crafts are another significant component of the rich cultural heritage of Iraq, and this site is intended to preserve information on traditional manufacturing practices of urban and rural areas. It is hoped that this will be a resource for students and researchers working on the material cultures and socio-economic life of Iraq and the surrounding regions of the Middle East.
This site is organized according to the cities, towns, and other settlements of modern Iraq. Within each of these categories you will find primary written sources, secondary historical studies, ethnographic and archaeological research, as well as photographs and websites. These diverse sources provide documentation for craft activities conducted in across Iraq from the seventh century to the present. The site will also be complemented by a range of resources designed to aid in the study of the craft traditions of this region, including a technical glossary, timeline, and links to other related websites. Some are already available and others will be added soon.
We will continue to add new entries to this site. If you have additional evidence concerning the crafts of Iraq, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please send your information, comments about the site, or questions to the following email address: email@example.com
Dr Marcus Milwright,
Professor of Islamic Art and Archaeology,
Department of Art History and Visual Studies
University of Victoria
Site Design and Maintenance: Atri Hatef Naeimi
Research Assistants: Baylee Woodley, Siobhan Davis, Hala Qasqas
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided by a SSHRC Internal Research and Creative Practice Grant (2018).