The Ruya Foundation announced details of the Iraqi Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, as well as a collaboration with Ai Weiwei.

The recent announcement of the National Pavilion of Iraq at the 56th Venice Biennale reveals the country’s representative artists as well as an exclusive collaboration with Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei.

Akam Shex Hadi, Untitled, 2014-2015, black-and-white digital print on Innova-Baryth Smoothgloss paper, 30 x 45 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Akam Shex Hadi, ‘Untitled’, 2014-2015, black-and-white digital print on Innova-Baryth Smoothgloss paper, 30 x 45 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

On 13 March 2015, the non-profit Ruya Foundation for Contemporary Culture in Iraq announced the details for the country’s national pavilion presentation at this year’s edition of the Venice Biennale.

Curated by Philippe Van Cauteren, Artistic Director of S.M.A.K. (Museum for Contemporary Art) in Ghent and co-curator of the Belgium Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2013, the Iraqi Pavilion entitled “Invisible Beauty” will feature five contemporary artists from across Iraq and the diaspora.

The exhibition will include a diverse range of media, with both newly commissioned and rediscovered past works. Accompanying the main show, a collection of 500 drawings made by refugees in Northern Iraq will also be on display. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has selected a number of these drawings for a publication that will be launched at the Biennale.

Invisible Beauty

The title of the exhibition refers to both unusual or unexpected subjects encountered in the works of the artists, as well as to their invisibility on the international stage. Among the variety of themes explored are survival, record-keeping, therapy and beauty.

The title’s infinite possibilities of interpretation reference the many ways in which art – generated in a country subjected to war, genocide, violations of human rights and the rise of Isis – can be approached. This is an important time, as the press release highlights, to bring out the voices of those who continue to create art in Iraq, where Isis has been conducting systematic demolition of the country’s cultural heritage in Hatra, Nimrud, Nineveh and the Mosul Museum.

Quoted in the press release (PDF download), the pavilion’s curator says:

Invisible Beauty is like a fragile membrane that registers the oscillations of an artistic practice permeated by the current condition of the country and the state of the arts.

Salam Atta Sabri, 'Letters From Baghdad', 2010-2012, pencil on paper, 29.7 x 21 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Salam Atta Sabri, ‘Letters From Baghdad’, 2010-2012, pencil on paper, 29.7 x 21 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

The artists

The artists in the pavilion represent a break – both in terms of media and of wider social concerns – from the constraints of a classical education that informs the orthodox aesthetic tradition of the majority of Iraqi artists’ work. The five artists on show are:

  • Latif Al Ani – photographer (Baghdad)
  • Akam Shex Hadi – photographer (Kurdistan)
  • Rabab Ghazoul – performance artist (Wales)
  • Salam Atta Sabri – ceramicist and sculptor (Baghdad)
  • Haider Jabbar – painter (Turkey)

Considered the founding father of Iraqi photography, Latif Al Ani (b. 1932) explores both modernising trends and the retention of ancient traditions. On show will be works from the earlier period of his career.

Akam Shex Hadi’s (b. 1985) photography engages with the rise of Isis and the refugee crisis. His new series of 28 photographs for the pavilion incorporates a recurrent motif resembling a snake, which references the Isis flag and serves as a reminder of its ensnaring qualities.

Haider Jabbar (b. 1986) will display a series of watercolour portraits – brutal renditions reflecting on the Isis crisis and the fate of its numerous victims.

Rabab Ghazoul (b. 1970) takes the Chilcot Enquiry as her point of departure. Investigating our relationship with political and social structures, part of her work will include an inventory of new official testimonies about the Iraq war, spoken by anonymous British citizens.

Salam Atta Sabri (b.1953), who has worked in art administration for a long time, will exhibit more than 100 drawings that he has never shown publicly before, which are symptomatic of crumbling infrastructure.

Latif Al Ani, 'Mirjan Mosque', 1960, black-and-white digital print on Hahnemühle Baryta fine art paper, 25 x 25 cm. Image courtesy the artist and the Arab Image Foundation (AIF).

Latif Al Ani, ‘Mirjan Mosque’, 1960, black-and-white digital print on Hahnemühle Baryta fine art paper, 25 x 25 cm. Image courtesy the artist and the Arab Image Foundation (AIF).

Traces of survival in Iraq

A display of more than 500 drawings made by refugees in Northern Iraq – collected by Ruya in Camp Shariya, Camp Baharka and Mar Elia Camp – will accompany the exhibition. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has selected a number of these works to include in a publication, TRACES OF SURVIVAL: Drawings by Refugees in Iraq selected by Ai Weiwei, which will be launched at the Biennale. The proceeds from the book will be given to those who provided the content.

Click here to read more Art Radar coverage of the 56th Venice Biennale. And don’t forget to check back with us for reviews and interviews once the Biennale has kicked off in 1 month and 14 days!

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Iraqi artists, art from Iraq, photography, painting, performance, drawing, books, Venice Biennale, 56th Venice Biennale, events in Venice

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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