When curating the exhibition ‘Archaic’ for the Iraq Pavilion, curators Tamara Chalabi and Paolo Colombo selected themes within the archaic that are the precursor to any civilization. Among these, is the theme of war.
While two of the participating artists at the Pavilion addressed war and conflict, here we highlight recent work by lesser-known Iraqi artists from Ruya’s public database.
The six artists featured in the gallery below address issues that are a direct consequence of ongoing conflict in Iraq. These range from from human rights abuses, depleting water resources, internal displacement, women and armed terrorist groups. The diversity of themes and approaches among these artists shows that the portrayal of conflict is not just limited to armed battles. In many, often less visible ways, war permeates the daily lives of people living within its proximity.
Some of these artists opt for raw and brutal imagery, such as Tara Qadir in her staged images of an imagined prison and its prisoners. Others, like Hashem Taeeh and Muna Al Jaffal use allegory to highlight issues of public concern. The anonymous collective Daafish opt for laughter in their satires of the Islamic State (IS), while Ava Nadir closely follows the lives of a displaced family living in a camp in northern Iraq. Finally, Akram Assam, attempts to look beyond the present context and reimagines an alternative utopian Baghdad.
The Sulaymaniya-based photographer Tara Qadir’s (b.1984) series ‘Eaten by Wolves’ (2013) addresses detention and torture in Iraqi prisons using staged photographs. The imprisonment and torture of thousands of Kurds during the Anfal campaigns in the 1980s is a collective trauma that many of Qadir’s contemporaries in Sulaymaniya are revisiting. Yet what is poignant in Qadir’s simple compositions is her ability to stage the slow and excruciating passage of time. Qadir’s concerns with capturing time are also explored in her recent series ‘Life’ (2016), which was exhibited at Ruya’s exhibition ‘Calling Calouste: New Iraqi Photography’ at the Gulbenkian Building in Baghdad.
The Erbil-based artist and filmmaker Ava Nadir’s (b. 196x, Iraq) new film and video installation How Long is Enough (2017), follows the life of Ali and his family, who fled ISIS in 2014 and have been living in a refugee camp in northern Iraq. The artist worked closely with Ali since his arrival at the camp. A central object in the film is the tent that Ali and his family live in. Through this, the artist questions the roles of the home and the shelter. Today in Iraq, over three million people are currently internally displaced. ’The inhabitants of these camps live with no status and no identity. They are strangers in a land full of tents,’ she writes about the project. The project was first exhibited at Shanadir Park in Erbil, on the occasion of World Refugee Day.
Natural resources, from oil to farmlands, gold and diamonds, are often at the root of civil and regional wars. In his new series, the Basra-based artist Hashim Taeeh (b.1948) addresses the water crisis in Iraq, caused by the drying out of its two historic rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. The ecological impacts of the drought are visible in the Basra governorate, where the two rivers empty into the Persian Gulf. Taeeh began working with cardboard and used materials during the Iran-Iraq, when painting materials became scarce. He took part in Welcome to Iraq, the Iraq Pavilion exhibition at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.
The sketch of an unidentified woman by Muna Al Jaffal (b. 1994, Syria) is more than a study in human anatomy. With her face and body turned away from the viewer, a tension rides up along her right side, causing her to flex her fingers. The figure is frozen in mid-action, gesturing towards an unspoken anger, pain or anxiety. In many ways, it recalls the deteriorating status of women in Iraq. With drawings such as this one, Al Jaffal, a graduate of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad, works within the structures of the traditional arts education at Iraqi art schools, while also subverting them. Al Jaffal has participated in several of Ruya’s art workshops in Baghdad.
Daafish is a group of anonymous Iraqi activists, who create and publish satirical cartoons about the Islamic State (IS) on Facebook. Within months of their first cartoon in April 2015, they built a tremendous following across the country and beyond. Audiences in IS controlled territories have reached out to them with ideas for new satirical cartoons—while supporters of IS send them scathing hate mail. In their social media battle against IS, Daafish show that contemporary warfare is no longer a strictly military operation – wars are also fought through the media. Read Ruya’s interview with Daafish.
In his photography series ‘The Other Life’, actor and filmmaker Akram Assam (b. 1982, Iraq) elicits an alternative vision of Baghdad, his home city. Using his mobile phone camera, Assam photographs buildings and residential areas that have been damaged by the ongoing violence and neglect in the city. A duplicate of the image appears symmetrically above the original photograph, and both images are broken up in a pattern that is reminiscent of the mirror mosaics technique. Assam believes these duplicated buildings, hanging from the sky, are the reflection of ‘another life, one that comes after the death and destruction found in Baghdad, at its best and without difficulties.’ Assam’s work was selected for Ruya’s non-profit booth at the art fair Art16, London (2016).