for National Geographic Today
Baghdad, Iraqon the pedestal in Fardus Square where the statue of Saddam Hussein toppled as the world watched, a new sculpture has risen.
The graffiti-marked pedestal bears a sign with the sculpture's title: NAJEEN, which means "survivor," and also happens to be the name of the group of young Iraqi artists who created the artwork.
"Freedom is not a gift from people with tanks," says sculptor Basim Hamad, a Najeen member and the driving force behind the new artwork.
Fardus Square, now also called Freedom Square, is in the city center. Traffic wheels around the squareunless protests clog the flow. The sidewalks teem with a minibazaar of currency exchange booths and men selling satellite telephone calls. The Paradise Hotel stands just off the square.
On May 29 about 30 Najeen members gathered to unveil the sculpture before a small crowd of Baghdad residents and journalists while, from behind razor wire on the block-long square, American soldiers looked on.
The artists decorated the pedestal with ribbons, exchanged flowers, hugged and kissed one another, and sang a traditional Iraqi lullaby, "Il Walad," or "My Child."
"A simple group made this great sculpture," said Baghdad resident Ziad Zubaidi. "When [Hussein] was the leader of Iraq, all he made was a statue of himself."
Indeed, almost all the public art in Baghdadmurals, mosaics, statues, and sculpturescontain an image of Hussein or a reference to his Baath party.
For the new plaster sculpture, 23 feet tall (7 meters), the Najeen created abstract figures of a mother, father, and child holding a crescent moon, symbol of Islam, around a sun, symbol of the Sumerian civilization. The Najeen dedicated the sculpture to "every person in Iraq and to freedom-loving people everywhere."
The week before the unveiling, the artists worked through the night to put up the sculpture and avoid the 120°F (49°C) early summer temperatures in Baghdad.
Publicity about the sculpture brought offers of support from around the world but Hamad has declined them: "If I take money from others, I'll have to create what they want. I want to create something that is purely my image, so we don't accept any money."
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