In This Review

Totalitarian Art
Totalitarian Art
By Igor Golomstock
420 pp, Overlook Press, 2011

Earlier this year, the government of Iraq, in a misconceived act of outreach to the country's once dominant Sunni community, began restoring a dilapidated monument in Baghdad. Originally constructed in the late 1980s as a celebration of Iraq's supposed triumph in its war against Iran, the Victory Arch was partially dismantled in 2008 by Sadrist elements who were eventually stopped by orders from the Iraqi prime minister. The monument consists of two sets of giant forearms and hands brandishing swords, draped with a net containing a gruesome collection of enemy helmets. Conceived by Saddam Hussein himself and carried out by the Iraqi sculptor Mohammed Ghani Hikmat using casts of Saddam's own arms, it is such an outstanding example of totalitarian kitsch that I used it as a lens through which to view the degradation of culture in Iraq under the Baathist regime in my 1991 book The Monument

An Iraqi Soldier passing the Victory Arch in Baghdad, June 2008

But what exactly makes

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  • KANAN MAKIYA is Sylvia K. Hassenfeld Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University and the author of The Monument: Art, Vulgarity, and Responsibility in Iraq.
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