WAMI is an artistic partnership quite rare in Iraq. Yasseen Wami (b. 1973, Basra, Iraq) and Hashim Taeeh (b. 1948, Basra, Iraq) work together to make installations of furniture from new and used cardboard. The modest material and basic, minimalist style they prefer are entirely at odds with a popular taste in Iraq for gilded home furnishings. Their ethos of “making do and getting by” – articulated with great wit – is a far cry from incongruous aspiration. Both artists come from Basra, south of Iraq, where they started their artistic collaboration. They exhibited together in several exhibitions, while continuing their independent practices. Their work was exhibited at Ruya’s Welcome to Iraq exhibition for the 55th Venice Biennale.
What modern and contemporary Iraqi artists do you most admire?
Hashim: The painter Faiq Hassan, who was famous for his drawings of horses and Bedouins in the desert, and more importantly, of modern life in Baghdad. I love his use of colours, his realism and his technique. He studied in Paris. When he returned to Baghdad in the 1930s, he taught at the university and inspired all the subsequent major Iraqi artists. I am also a big fan of Jawad Salim, who was the first artist to want to create an Iraqi art. He drew from Sumerian, Akkadian, and Islamic arts that he mixed with a Western style of painting. His most famous work is the Liberty Monument in Baghdad. He founded The Baghdad School of Modern Art and many other influential groups. I read his manifestos and was drawn to the strong Iraqi identity in his work.
Yaseen: Jawad Salim is one of the most important artists in Iraq and the Arab world. I also love the work of contemporary painters Dia al Azzawi and Rafa Nasiri. Their vision is beautiful and original.
Why are arts and culture important for a country like Iraq?
Yaseen: Arts and culture are the guardians of values. For Iraqi artists to get the recognition they deserve, they should not get disconnected from the outside world. This is why this exhibition at the Venice Biennale is so important.
What do you love most about Venice and the Biennale?
Hashim: Venice is magical. It’s a city of fantasy and romance. In every moment and in any place one feels the need to take a picture.
Yaseen: It is also a great opportunity to see the work of other artists. Our favourite was the Holland pavilion. I also liked the video installations in the Argentina Pavilion.
How has your worked developed over the years?
Hashim: We met two years ago and our ideas clicked. I had been working with cardboard since 1981. This was the start of the Iran-Iraq war, which drove people to poverty. I could no longer buy art materials but cardboard was easy to find and work with. It also took on a more symbolic meaning, as people used it for everything during the war: to cover broken windows or on the floor as mattresses. Yaseen began with mixed media installations and sculptures. He started using cardboard two years ago. He has also written short stories.