Written by Babak Dehghanpisheh, CNN
On a nearby table in her kitchen, in black paint, sits a slightly distressed slice of childhood memory.
At the very age of eight, Tamara Bazdarhan skewered a stick pumpkin. It had lived up to its promise: Pumpkins, she’d thought, are like little people in the sweetest way — neither too big nor too small, just something light and edible.
“This is the first pumpkin I carved and really enjoyed,” she says. “I wanted to know what it was like to touch it.”
The simple passage of time has since softened the pumpkin’s deep, whitish hue. “It was a story that I told to the adults when I got older.”
For the year Bazdarhan spent as an apprentice to one of Iraq’s best established carvers, Amiya Hambader, her children were taught to carve the pumpkins she was carving.
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As a result, Bazdarhan and her siblings had the unconventional choice to carve outside their home, in the garden, under the threat of chasing squirrels and squirrelses.
When it came to carving, her skills were impressive. Bazdarhan learned the craft alongside Hambader himself. There, she sought to make all three pumpkin generations– yes, especially the oldest, who held fast to their first pumpkins by helping to carve a second.
“Amiya made five pumpkins for his fifth birthday, so that I could get experience in the carving process and then we did a bit of shared work.
“He gave me an apple pumpkin as a gift and when I was eight, I made the first pumpkin.”
Hambader’s work is haunting, making phantasms out of kaleidoscopic light from a dark, narrow tunnel. His sculptures, who were once objects of wonder and wonderment, become man-made monsters that lay hidden within the mysterious shadows of the marsh Arabs. Bazdarhan and her siblings have inherited the world of the Marsh Arabs, too.
“The most important thing is to tell a story,” she says. “The first technique for me was the pumpkin — you have to draw a picture on it, you have to make a sketch, you have to explain the story.”