Center For Refugee Services
The Artist Lateef

Where does the story of the artist Lateef begin?  In Baghdad, Iraq where Lateef AL-Khatib was born and where as a small boy, one of Lateef’s teachers noticed his growing artistic ability and remarked that “Lateef’s talents and abilities are ahead of his age.”  His paintings and water colors were shown at his primary school’s annual art show.  After primary school Lateef moved to the Al-Sharqiya intermediate school where Lateef began acting as well as continuing and expanding his art work.


Lateef’s interest in theatre and acting increased as he entered high school.  He began acting in comedies while continuing to expand his artwork.  Lateef joined a theatrical comedy group called the 14th of July Theatre group while he was in secondary school in Baghdad.  In 1970 Lateef wrote a scene for a silent play called Burkan, a pantomime consisting primarily of music and movement.  This play was such a success that Lateef was asked to bring to several other regional theatres in the Baghdad area.


In 1972 Lateef applied for and was accepted into the Art Academy of Baghdad with a major in Theatre Arts.  Many people have asked Lateef why he chose the theater when he had such obvious talent in drawing and painting.  He says the answer is simple.  Working in the theatre is an artistic achievement within a team of director, actors, artists, fashion consultants, decor, clothing, makeup, etc.  Painting is an individual activity which comes from talent, imagination, reading and learning about art and visiting galleries.  At that time is his life, Lateef chose being part of a team.


Lateef’s acting career inside and outside of college grew including roles on the stage, on TV and even in movies.  As a first or second year student, Lateef was given many roles usually reserved for upperclassmen which created some jealousy among his peers.  Nevertheless, his acting career continued to flourish and he even began to direct plays and TV shows.  Lateef was influenced by Ibrahim Jalal, a famous Iraqi director who encouraged him, brought him books and was a mentor to Lateef.  In 1976, Lateef received a degree in Theatre Arts.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From 1980 to 1991 Lateef was in the military during the war with Iran. 
Between 1991 and 1994 he resumed his acting and directing as well as continuing his art career. In 1994 he was invited to go to Jordan for a show of his art work.  Lateef’s acting career had been halted by a run-in with the Iraqi government over an unauthorized play that Lateef had acted in.  The trip to Jordan resulted in a 15-year stay in Jordan where he had the opportunity to work with many other artists and for his art work to become more well-known.

 

During this time in Jordan, Lateef missed Iraq, his homeland, his friends and family.  He returned to Iraq in 1999 but was still not allowed to work in the theatre or display his art in art galleries so he returned to Jordan.  During this time in Jordan, King Abdullah the second presented Lateef with a letter of commendation and greeting for his art.  
Even before his move to Jordan, Lateef had a dream, to come to the United States, maybe even to work on Broadway.  When he applied to the United Nations for refugee status, he was afraid that like many refugees, he would be sent to Europe or Australia or some other country that accepted refugees.  Lateef’s would be disappointed with any destination other than the United States.  When asked why only America, Lateef replied “Because in the U.S., I can practice my art without restrictions, without interference from the government.  There are laws here (America) to protect my freedoms. 

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I knew that if I could come to the U.S., it would be my second home.”
Lateef applied for refugee status in 1997 and again in 2006.  Finally, in 2009 his request was granted and Lateef arrived in San Antonio in 2009.  When asked about his experience since coming to the U.S. Lateef says he was shocked to see so many cultures represented in San Antonio.  He says there have been some difficulties here; learning to get around on the buses, the rules to get a job, learning to communicate with non-Arabic speakers, reading and understanding signs.  Lateef says he has been lucky to have people from Catholic Charities and the CRS willing to help him.

Lateef’s artwork and his artistic inspiration have grown since his arrival in 2009.  Lateef has had his work shown at many galleries in San Antonio.  In 2011 Catholic Charities in San Antonio presented Lateef with a certificate of appreciate for his artwork and his contributions to art in San Antonio.  Since his arrival in San Antonio, Lateef has added subjects and influences from San Antonio mixing culture from his new home with that of his homeland.  He has added Silhouettes to his art along with relief texture and acrylic color since his arrival in America.  He will continue to work with these new mediums and may add other techniques to his artistic tool chest.  Lateef is currently working on a set of works to be shown in a local gallery illustrating the Epic of Gilgamesh, a group of legendary Sumerian poems. When asked what Lateef would like people to know or understand about him he said: “The most important thing to know about me is my work.  This is who I am.  This is my ID.”

 

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