Layla Al-Attar

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Layla Al-Attar
Layla Al-Attar, 2014.jpg
Born May 7, 1944
Baghdad, Iraq
Died June 27, 1993 (aged 49)
Baghdad, Iraq

Layla Al-Attar (Arabic: ليلى العطار‎; May 7, 1944 - June 27, 1993) was an accomplished Iraqi artist and painter who became the Director of the Iraqi National Art Museum.

Life and career[edit]

Layla Attar graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad in 1965, and was amongst the first women graduates from that program. She became the Director of the Center for National Art (now the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art), a post she held until her death in 1993.[1]

She held five one-woman shows in Iraq, and took part in all national and other collective exhibitions held in the country and abroad. Al-Attar also took part in the Kuwait Biennial (1973), the first Arab Biennial (Baghdad 1974), the second Arab Biennial (1976), the Kuwait Biennial (1981), and won the Golden Sail Medal in the Cairo Biennial (1984).

On 27 June 1993, Al-Attar, her husband and their housekeeper were killed by a U.S. missile attack on Iraqi Intelligence main building which was just behind her house, ordered by U.S. President Bill Clinton. The building was hit by 24 rockets. Two misfired and hit their house by accident, per her son's testimony. The attack also blinded Al-Attar's daughter, though there are some rumours the misfire was intended, due to a previous unflattering painting of George Bush laid onto a popular business hotel.[2]

Her sister, Suad al-Attar is also a noted artist, now living and working in London.


Kris Kristofferson dedicated and wrote a song about Al-Attar, called "The Circle", which appears on his live album Broken Freedom Song: Live from San Francisco. In the live introduction to the song on that CD, Kristofferson explains that it covers both the death of Layla Al-Attar and the problem of los desaparecidos, the Argentines who "disappeared"; they were secretly arrested and murdered by the Argentinian dictatorial government. He states that he linked the two as examples of governments taking no responsibility for the deaths of non-combatants.

Marta Gomez later covered the song on a tribute album, The Pilgrim. A celebration of Kris Kristofferson,[3] adding a verse in Spanish.

The character Layal in the play Nine Parts of Desire is based on Al-Attar.[4] Author Heather Raffo, stated that she saw a painting by Al-Attar in an art gallery and was curious about it. This prompted her to write the play, with the Al-Attar character central in it.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nusair, I., "The Cultural Costs of the 2003 US-Led Invasion of Iraq: A Conversation with Art Historian Nada Shabout," Feminist Studies, Vol. 39, No. 1 (2013), p. 128 Online:
  2. ^ Pope, H., "Artist's Rendering: After Painter Dies, A Myth is Born in Insular Iraq? Baghdadis Believe Ms. Attar Was Target of US Missiles," ''Asian Wall Street Journal 3June 3, 2002 [ Online:
  3. ^ Marta Gómez: De dulce by Carles Gracia Escarp 21/06/2013 for Accessed online using Google Translate on June 25, 2015.
  4. ^ a b Sandler, Lauren. "An American and Her Nine Iraqi Sisters." The New York Times. October 17, 2004. Retrieved on April 13, 2014.

External links[edit]

  • Layla Al Attar at - digital archive of reproductions of artworks, many of which were stolen or damaged during the 2203 lootings and not accessible via any other reliable public source