'Wax Museum' offers window into Iraq's past
The wax figures displayed at the Bagdhadi Museum provide a window into a time before Saddam Hussein, the eight-year war with Iran, the invasion of Kuwait and subsequent sanctions, and the 2003 US-led invasion and its aftermath. AFP photoBaghdad’s version of a wax museum features figures, who depict Iraq’s past rather than replicas of celebrities like Michael Jackson, offers a distinctly different experience from Madame Tussauds.
Eschewing the Western model, Baghdadi Museum provides a window into a time before Saddam Hussein, the eight-year war with Iran, the invasion of Kuwait and subsequent sanctions, and the 2003 US-led invasion and its aftermath.
Sculpted works of wax and plaster depict scenes of Iraq from about a century ago, with women standing in balconies, men in barber shops, and artists hard at work.
Other exhibits show Sufi ceremonies or marriages, and women in Turkish baths -- all carefully recreated in the museum, located inside an elegant Ottoman-era house.
Formerly an archaeological museum founded by British adventurer Gertrude Bell, the building lies in Baghdad’s old Baab al-Muadham area near the banks of the river Tigris.
Not inspired by Madame Tussauds
The museum has more than 500 figurines, which were fabricated there. Sets, lighting and costumes are neat, the street scenes are clean and well-lit, and there are no weapons in evidence.
This contrasts sharply with Baghdad today, which is marked by high concrete walls to guard against explosions, pothole-riven streets, and numerous checkpoints manned by assault rifle-armed members of the security forces.
Iraq is still recovering from decades of war, sanctions and dictatorship, and a number of children and young adults have missed the opportunity to learn about the lifestyles of their ancestors.
Baghdadi Museum aims to fill this gap, and occasionally uses storytellers and musicians to convey the message.
The idea is to promote a message of “peace, love and culture,” the museum’s director Bassem al-Anizi said. “Iraqi children desperately need to be educated about the past,” he said.
Despite the similarities, the museum, which opened in 1971, was not inspired by the famous Madame Tussauds wax museum in London.
Today, Anizi is in search of a site to open a new branch that would hold figurines of 55 people who helped shape Iraq, including its first king, Faisal, and Gertrude Bell.