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The newly created Modern Art Iraq Archive (MAIA) is part of a long-term effort to document and preserve the modern artistic works from the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad, most of which were lost and damaged in the fires and looting during the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003. As the site shows, little is known about many works, including their current whereabouts and their original location in the museum. The lack of documents about modern Iraqi art prompted the growth of the project to include supporting text. The site makes the works of art available as an open-access database in order to raise public awareness of the many lost works and to encourage interested individuals help document the museum’s original and/or lost holdings.

The MAIA site is the culmination of seven years of work by its project director, Nada Shabout, professor of art history and director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Institute at the University of North Texas in Denton. Since 2003, Shabout has been collecting information on the lost works through intensive research, interviews with artists, museum personnel, and art-gallery owners. Shabout received two fellowships from the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq, in 2006 and 2007, to conduct the first phase of data collection. In 2009, she teamed with colleagues at the Alexandria Archive Institute, a California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to opening global cultural heritage for research, education, and creative works. The team won a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create a comprehensive archive of works once housed in museum’s galleries. These significant national treasures are displayed in an format that invites worldwide use, including the Iraqi national and expatriate communities. Users are encouraged to help identify and further document individual pieces.

MAIA aims to map the development of modern art in Iraq during the twentieth century and be a research tool to scholars, students, authorities, and the general public. It also strives to raise awareness of the rich modern heritage of Iraq. Furthermore, the creation of an authoritative, public inventory of the collection will not only act as a reminder of its cultural value and thus hopefully hasten its return, but it will also help combat smuggling and black-market dealings of the works.