Art thieves target Iraqi artist in Phoenix

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by Jared Dillingham

Bio | Email | Follow: @JaredDillingham

azfamily.com

Posted on August 18, 2014 at 9:30 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 20 at 2:51 PM

PHOENIX -- An Iraqi artist who moved to Phoenix to escape violence in Baghdad was the target of an art heist Monday.

Internationally-known artist  and political refugee Bassim Al-Shaker arrived to his gallery in the Roosevelt Neighborhood early Monday morning, and found the door smashed to pieces.   All of his artwork, tools, and couches were gone.

"I'm very surprised, because I'm in America, and for me, America means safety," he told 3TV.

He says nine paintings were stolen, including those of horses, landscapes, and nudes. He and ASU Art Museum officials value the paintings at $50,000.

Al-Shaker was given refugee status more than a year ago. He worked mostly as a barber in Baghdad, but also painted. He says Iraqi militias targeted him, and attacked him over his nude paintings.

"I'm not angry, but I'm very sad," he said.

"They don't understand what they've taken or the importance of the work they've jeopardized by this action,'' Greg Esser of ASU's Art Museum said of the burglars.

"To have something like this happen out of the blue to him has really shaken him up," Esser added.

Police say they don't have many clues, and hope people will recognize pictures of the paintings if they see them for sale online or in stores.

"It's something we wouldn't want that done to anyone, but with all the challenges he's gone through, we want to find these suspects and arrest them," Phoenix Police Sgt. Steve Martos told 3TV.

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