RUYA hosted a day long symposium on contemporary art in Baghdad last week, open to artists and intellectuals from across the country.

Curator Philippe Van Cauteren, who RUYA brought to Baghdad to meet artists and visit the city’s cultural institutions, gave a presentation on the current international state of contemporary art.

‘We took advantage of Philippe’s visit, ahead of his curation of the Iraq Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, to host an event that addressed contemporary art practice in the world today, and encourage dialogue among artists across the country,’ says Tamara Chalabi, chairman of RUYA.

“Over 200 artists attended. There is a clear demand for events like these in Baghdad” Furat al Jamil, Iraq Office Director

Over 200 artists from across Iraq attended the symposium. ‘Artists were in the highest spirits to get to know Philippe,’ says Furat al Jamil, director of RUYA’s Iraq Office, who organised the event. ‘It is wonderful to think of all the possibilities that this visit will open up for Iraqi artists and their work.’


Curator Philippe Van Cauteren gives his presentation with RUYA’s Tamara Chalabi

Philippe’s talk, which focused on what he called ‘honesty’ in contemporary art, began with Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, Manet’s La Botte d’Asperges and Malevich’s Black on White, before looking at examples of work in a wide range of media from the ’60s through to the present day.

‘There is a clear demand for events like these in Baghdad. When Philippe finished his presentation, many young artists came up and asked him for a copy of his talk,’ Furat reports, ‘I have since received many new portfolios from artists who attended the talk’.

‘The event went on for much longer than expected as many artists wanted Philippe to go through every single image he had prepared, as their language and ideas have not been presented in Iraq before, since art practice is still stuck somewhere in the 1970s,’ Tamara Chalabi explains.



The presentation was followed by questions and discussions, which lasted all day.

Several artists also travelled from other regions in Iraq, Kurdistan, Basra, and Babylon. ‘Given the current climate, this was a real commitment on their part,’ says Tamara Chalabi, ‘and I am thrilled that they were willing and able to attend’.

RUYA also hosted a meeting for Iraqi writers and journalists on the previous day, attended by the Baghdad-based journalist Afrah Showqi and playwright Atyaf Rasheed, Fares Haram, head of the Writer’s Union of Najaf, the historian and literary figure Salem al Alusi, and the Erbil based journalist Ava Nadir.

The meeting focused on contemporary culture in Iraq today, as well as RUYA’s Iraq Pavilion’s upcoming catalogue for the 56th Venice Biennale, published by Mousse Publishing.