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Janet Al Muradi's "Alleyways of My Memories" at Davies-Reid

Among the pieces that hang this First Thursday at Davies-Reid is Village of the North, an impressionistic bird's-eye view of the small town in Northern Iraq where artist Janet Al Muradi was born and raised.

It's from her most recent collection, "Alleyways of My Memories," most of which are acrylic on canvas or paper and have been painted from photographs Al Muradi has taken. Her work is often architectural, depicting landscapes or buildings, from important civic structures to dilapidated doorways.

Born in a tiny mountainous village in northern Iraq, Al Muradi was raised by her grandparents, and the forests became her playground. Some of her earliest art memories include helping select fabric swatches and thread colors for her grandmother's sewing and needlework projects and constructing miniature versions of her family, house and furniture from sticks, mud and rocks.

Her grandmother supported Al Muradi's artistic expression throughout her youth, and later her talent was encouraged by her school, which asked her to paint large wall murals. A motivated student, she continued to study art and graduated with the American equivalent of a bachelor's degree in fine arts.

She married an Iraqi politician in her 20s, and was soon the mother of two. Al Muradi worked as an art teacher in Iraqi schools before she and her family moved to Jordan, where she continued to teach as she completed a master's degree in archaeology--a respected field for artists, as it provides practical, applicable skills for the work force.

When Al Muradi's children were young, her husband was killed by the Iraqi regime because of differing political ideologies. The family moved to Baghdad, and it was there her career took on an even more important role: She was appointed to help oversee children's arts in the Cabinet of the Ministry of Education in Iraq.

Along with her career, her art was growing as well.

"Sculpture has always been in my heart, my true love," she said in Arabic, with her daughter Dunia, a student at Boise State, translating. "They are mostly in galleries in the Middle East or private collections now," she added.

Three years ago, Al Muradi and Dunia moved to Boise from Iraq because of the war and political issues, and since then, Al Muradi has been painting often. Though sculpture is her preferred medium, she said that painting is more practical because supplies are easier to come by and a large studio space isn't necessary. These days she paints small-to-medium sized canvases in the extra bedroom in her apartment.

Not too long ago, Al Muradi met Dan Ronfeld, the manager of Davies-Reid, a space that features tribal arts, home decor, jewelry and rugs crafted by artisans from around the world. When Ronfeld heard about Al Muradi's paintings, he offered the store as an exhibition space.

"It's great for us to partner with artists in a way that supports one another and is profitable for us both," said Ronfeld. "Janet's work will bring in a group of people to our shop, and they'll see what our international artisans create. At the same time, our clients will be exposed to quality paintings being done by a local Iraqi immigrant."

The exhibition opens at Davies-Reid this First Thursday with an artist reception from 6-8 p.m. and will show through November, featuring work Al Muradi has done since 2004.

Along with her art, Al Muradi is also a tireless human-rights activist. She is the United States director of the Regional Council Against Torture, which supports freedom and human rights in Beirut and Lebanon.

For Al Muradi, it is important that her paintings teach peace, and she hopes her viewers find happiness in her subject matter.

"In my paintings, I typically depict places I know or landscapes I'd love to visit someday," she said. "Many of these places no longer exist, but they live in my memories."

Al Muradi's paintings rarely contain human figures, and if they do, the people are abstracted shadows, allowing the viewer to put himself or herself in that place during a tranquil time in their lives, she explained.

According to Patty Haller, assistant director at the Idaho Office For Refugees, creativity can be an important tool in aiding the resettlement process.

"In social services, we are often looking at meeting refugees' basic needs, like housing and employment. It's easy to lose sight of how powerful creativity and the connection to one's culture is, especially in the middle of all the chaos of relocating," said Haller. "Sometimes things that are soothing to your spirit and memories of your former life get missed or pushed to the side in favor of more practical daily issues.

"It's so important to reconnect on that personal level with their art, be it traditional handicrafts, or fine art."

When asked if she's done any paintings of Boise, Al Muradi points to Village of the North.

"This could be Boise. In my eyes and my heart, these two places remind me so much of one another. I feel like I've come full circle in the journey of my life," she explained.


BW also has a complete list of First Thursday events and a map to help you get there, as well as a list of don't miss events.

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