This story won't be quite what the title suggests... but read on and see where it goes....

Houston, we have a controversy.

Iraq to help Victoria artist finish bronze peace sanctuary in Baghdad

VICTORIA - Saddam Hussein's Iraqi government is helping a Victoria artist realize his lifelong dream of a completing a bronze sculpture slated to become the focal point of a peace sanctuary in north-eastern British Columbia.

Deryk Houston, 48, said Thursday he has written permission from Iraq's minister of culture to finish his eight-tonne peace sculpture at a Baghdad blast furnace. The painter and sculptor said he knows he's travelling to a potential war zone, but is convinced the art work can be done before fighting starts.

The United States is gearing up for a military confrontation with Iraq. "I'm going to get the sculpture done," Houston said. "I've come this far and I can't walk away from it now.

"But I'm not crazy. I don't have a death wish. I want to get there, do the work, say, 'you've got the model,' and leave."

Houston's completed peace sanctuary will be located in a gravel pit near Hudson's Hope, in the Peace River area about 2,000 kilometres northeast of Victoria. The local district council approved the project last year. Houston said he is planning to leave for Iraq on Sept. 27, but has not set a return date.

He received a handwritten letter by fax from Iraq on Sept. 9 from an aide of Yousif Hummadi, Iraq's minister of culture. "We will offer you residence and hospitality through the period of achieving the sculpture,'' the letter said. "With pleasure we give you permission to send out press releases mentioning that Iraq is participating in this project.''

The letter said the bronze work will be competed at a Baghdad fusion furnace, but Houston is responsible for the cost of shipping the sculpture back to Canada. Iraq's involvement in the peace sanctuary gives the project symbolic meaning, Houston said.

Houston, who has been to Iraq twice, said he wants people to know the struggles the country's ordinary citizens face. Economic sanctions following the Gulf War have hurt children and families, he said. "I saw humanitarian catastrophe on a scale we don't understand," Houston said. "I saw stuff that most people don't get to see and don't want to see."

He said he attended an international art exhibition in Baghdad three months ago where he exhibited paintings that depicted the horrors sanctions caused Iraqi families. "I like the idea of getting Iraq involved because there's a lot of misinformation about who they are," Houston said. "I know that the people themselves are ordinary people who are trying to feed and raise their families."

Houston's vision for a peace sanctuary will become part of a National Film Board documentary. He said the sanctuary will be visible from the air, but ideally it will become a place where people visit to feel free. "I'm hoping that it is a place to think about the world and solve problems," Houston said.

Bill Lindsay, Hudson's Hope administrator, said Houston discussed his vision for the peace sanctuary at community and council meetings. About 1,000 people live in Hudson's Hope, located near the W.A.C. Bennett Dam. "I find him very genuine," Lindsay said. "The community here has been pretty good about supporting him."
About Deryk Houston

<http://www.canadahouse.com/dynamic/a...ryk_public.htm>

Deryk Houston's website:

www.coastnet.com/dhouston/hudsonhope.html <http://www.coastnet.com/dhouston/hudsonhope.html>

Copyright 2002 Canadian Press