In 2003, after returning from a month-long stay in Baghdad, American artist Paul Chan was given a gift from a colleague in the human-rights group Voices of the Wilderness: a copy of three speeches on democracy written by Saddam Hussein in the 1970s, before he became president of Iraq. The speeches, compiled here for the first time in English, are politically perverse, yet eerily familiar. The then vice president of Iraq characterizes social democracy as demanding authority, and defines free will as the patriotic duty to uphold the good of the state. This volume takes the speeches as an opportunity to ask what democracy means from the standpoint of a notorious political figure who was anything but democratic, and to reflect on how promises of freedom and security can mask the reality of repressive regimes. With drawings by Paul Chan, including a new suite in its entirety, and essays by Bidoun’s Negar Azimi, philosopher and artist Nickolas Calabrese and journalist Jeff Severns Guntzel, this book is the perfect addition for anyone questioning the scope of any democratic country’s political system.
About the contributors NEGAR AZIMI is senior editor of Bidoun magazine. She has written for Artforum, Frieze, Harper’s, and The New York Times Magazine, among other venues. She sits on the boards of the Beirut-based Arab Image Foundation, and Artists Space in New York. NICKOLAS CALABRESE is an artist and writer who lives and works in New York. He is currently working on a project exploring the relationship of trolling to art and philosophy. PAUL CHAN is an artist who lives and works in New York. Recent exhibitions include dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, 2012; Before The Law, Ludwig Museum, Cologne, 2011–12; and Making Worlds, 53rd Venice Biennale, Venice, 2009. JEFF SEVERNS GUNTZEL has reported from the Middle East and the US as a staff writer for National Catholic Reporter and Village Voice Media. He was a contributing editor at Punk Planet magazine and senior editor at Utne Reader. Before journalism, he spent years doing humanitarian work in prewar Iraq. Electronic Iraq, a website he co-founded in 2003 to document the Iraqi experience of war, is archived in the Library of Congress and the British Library.