Ruya Foundation’s chairman Tamara Chalabi continues her diary about her research trip in Iraq with curator Jonathan Watkins, for the Pavilion of Iraq:
And so to the oil-rich southern province of Basra, where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers meet and trickle toward the Gulf. The main city has a coastal feel, despite being 25 miles from the sea, with motorboats and fishing skips cruising through wide stretches of water. After the war, global oil giants flooded into town and their presence is signified by large numbers of drills, turbines, oil rigs and transportation infrastructure. On the plane we were probably the only people who weren’t somehow connected to the oil industry. The city feels fairly safe and there is a busy night life. Streets teem with people shopping and/or meeting friends amidst stalls and kiosks selling street food, against a backdrop of brightly lit shop fronts. It turns out that Basra has a sizeable population of Chinese people, working hard with typical good humour. In a busy market, full of ‘£1 shops’, we met a Chinese woman who told us that if we were looking for a good Chinese restaurant we’d have to call in at her house.
The Fine Arts Association of Basra
The Fine Arts Association of Basra is located in a beautiful old house by the side of a canal. There we met a group of local artists who talked candidly about the difficulties they face arising out of cultural isolation and the conservative nature of Basra. One of them recently opened a gallery but pressure from Islamic militia intimidated him so much that he had to close it down.