ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Art History in "Frankenstein in Baghdad" by Ahmed Saadawi

Updated on March 26, 2020
cholt profile image

When I'm not being a photographer, a dancer, or making jewelry, I write. Specifically art history. I plan on writing about other subjects.

The Book's Cover

The art historical references in Frankenstein in Baghdad commences with the book cover, which contains a print of fragmented facial features. It took me a while to find these images because Baghdad's credits provided incorrect information. Scanning within the pages, I discovered two of the three fragments in the book, Planches de l'Encyclopédie de Diderot et d'Alembert, volume 2b.

I find it fascinating that artwork created for Enlightenment-era writing now acted as commentary to highlight Baghdad's story of a city (and its citizens) torn apart and put back together by war's destruction.

From the "Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, volume 2b"

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Mary Shelley versus Ahmed Saadawi

Taking place in 2005 during the Iraq War, Baghdad is preyed upon by a creation called the Whatsitsname. A being put together with the remains of corpses on a whim by a scavenger named Hadi. A slight contrast to Mary Shelley's comfortably living scientist who wanted to challenge nature. While Shelley's creature has hate and self-loathing for a world that created and rejected him due to his appearance, Saadawi's Whatsitsname becomes a symbol of defiance for beleaguered Baghdad citizens. Despite the differences in the eras and locations, both Shelley's and Saadawi's creatures enact vengeance against their environments. As Frankenstein in Baghdad ends, the Whatsitsname lives and continues the cycle of violence brought into existence by war.

Living in a layered past

Besides the Whatsitsname and Hadi, the character I wish to devote this section to is the pious Christian Elishva, who resides near Hadi. Whenever Elishva does not go to a church that exists in real life, she spends time in her home waiting for a son long dead. A central location in the story, Sadaawi describes Elishva's house containing a blending of local and religious architectural designs. Furthermore, the residence once belonged to members of a local Jewish community. Living in a house full of rich history stitched together not too dissimilar to the creature roaming Baghdad, Elishva adorns this dwelling with her collection of Christian art. Throughout the book, Sadaawi describes Elishva's personal accumulation of saints, the many ages of Jesus from his youth to his final days, and lastly, a portrayal of Saint George and a dragon. This work of art figures a great deal in the book.

Elishva ultimately leaves Baghdad, but not without taking a fragment of that painting of Saint George.

Which painting of Saint George and the Dragon did Sadaawi take inspiration from?

Click thumbnail to view full-size
{{PD-US-expired}} {{PD-US-expired}}{{PD-US-expired}}{{PD-US-expired}}{{PD-US-expired}}{{PD-US-expired}}{{PD-US-expired}}
{{PD-US-expired}} | Source
{{PD-US-expired}} | Source
{{PD-US-expired}} | Source
{{PD-US-expired}} | Source
{{PD-US-expired}} | Source
{{PD-US-expired}} | Source
{{PD-US-expired}} | Source

Saint George and the Dragon

As Elishva waits for a son who died a fighter to return home, she looks to a copy of Saint George and the dragon for comfort. As her outside world falls apart, Elishva maintains a sense of serenity with George while longing for a closure that will never come. The painting itself is substantially a character in the novel, but Saadawi never reveals who made the painting. Looking through reproductions of European art history’s long fascination with such a dramatic scene, I found some possibilities, but nothing close to a match. The details led me to the conclusion that whatever painting Sadaawi used as inspiration probably originated from the Renaissance era.

Art mentioned in "Frankenstein in Baghdad"

Click thumbnail to view full-size
"Throne Verse""Joad Salem" in Liberation Square, Baghdad
"Throne Verse"
"Throne Verse" | Source
"Joad Salem" in Liberation Square, Baghdad
"Joad Salem" in Liberation Square, Baghdad | Source

What ends up preserved and what ends up destroyed

While Saadawi mentions a variety of Christian iconography found in the city, there still exists some Islamic art and architecture. Hadi, the creator of the Whatsitsname, has a reproduction of the Qur'an's Surah Al-Baqarah 2:255 hanging on his wall. While Hadi ends up battered during an invasion, his attackers destroy that reproduction, along with a Virgin Mary statuette, plus a group of photographs of one former Iraqi prime minister and two kings. Research into the background of those three people produced reigns that concluded in violent deaths and even signified a change in Iraq.

This book further mentions other kinds of existing buildings and architecture in Baghdad, some with their history of looting and violence. Additional forms of architectural features such as the mashrabiya received numerous comments, and in the story, a foundation regularly urges Baghdad to keep these windows intact while in wartime. The same preservation lobby makes sure that Baghdad's intellectual past remained covered up after a battle revealed that era's architectural grandeur. As the Whatsitsname discovers itself held together by layers of ghosts driving him to take revenge as a response to war, Iraq itself has layers of history held together by activists determined to keep these eras preserved in their original state. While the story finishes, the Whatsitsname's revenge is not over, and Saadawi infers that Iraq's destruction (along with evidence of its past) will not die.

An unrelated observation used to end this essay.

Saadawi uses the color pink as a symbol of divine and government authority. For example, Iraqi government workers don pink shirts. The Virgin Mary is also associated with the color pink.

© 2020 Catherine


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)