Writer Hannah Khalil talks about her play A Museum in Baghdad set in Iraq in 1926 and 2006. Why do the place, the period and the people matter to us now?

Hannah Khalil is a playwright with Middle Eastern heritage. She talks about her new play, A Museum in Baghdad, set in Iraq, which tells the stories of two women 80 years apart trying to preserve the country's treasures in unstable times.

Arab stereotypes

Trying to redress the balance of the way Arabs are portrayed on stage and screen is one of the reasons I started writing in the first place.

I have always considered representations of Arabs and Muslims to be completely stereotypical and narrow (especially in film and TV) and I’m so sad that it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse, so I want to try and do my own little thing about that in my writing.

Arab women are all too often overlooked in life and in history, but they’ve played a key role of course. If Arab men are stereotyped, Arab women are doubly so, and that stereotype of the meek, subservient veiled lady is not one I recognise or have ever met in life.

One of the characters in A Museum in Baghdad is inspired by a real-life Iraqi female archaeologist who worked to rebuild the museum after the looting; a powerhouse of a woman, determined and strong. This is much more representative of the Arab women in my life.


Britain, Iraq and our colonial past

It’s easy to see colonialism in very black and white terms but the truth is the European colonial influence on the world is a myriad of greys. Without it my Irish mother and Palestinian father would probably never have come to London and I wouldn’t exist! But we also probably wouldn’t have the deep divisions in the Middle East – and wider world - that exist today. Ultimately it feels to me like even if some of the individuals involved in colonial projects had good intentions, the overall aim was for Europe to benefit from those colonized countries’ assets.

The legacy of colonialism is deeply complicated and nuanced so that’s my big takeaway. It’s not remotely straightforward, as the characters in the play attest.


This is an abridged version of an article that ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ISSUE 11 OF RADICAL MISCHIEF zine.

Read the full article