Welcome To Iraq: After Decades of Censorship Iraq conquers Venice Biennale

The Ruya Foundation for Contemporary Culture in Iraq (RUYA), commissioners of the official Iraq Pavilion at the 55th International Art Exhibition in Venice, will present Welcome to Iraq, a group exhibition of works by 10 contemporary Iraqi artists from June to November 2013 at the Palazzo Dandolo, Grand Canal, Venice.
The artists presented are all Iraqi artists resident in Iraq.  Working across a wide range of media, including photography, drawing, painting, video, installation, sculpture, and textiles, they represent two generations of artists from across the country. Jonathan Watkins and Tamara Chalabi, Chairman of RUYA, worked with researchers and experts from within the country to find artists. They hosted educational events for groups of over 90 artists and visited studios in Baghdad, the provinces of Babylon and Kurdistan, and Basra.
Decades of repression, censorship and conflict have limited Iraq’s culture, but art is now re-emerging from within the country despite the difficulties artists face. There is an incredible diversity amongst artists now practicing in Iraq and this exhibition aims to give insight into this embryonic art scene by taking a small but significant step towards free cultural exchange between Iraq and the rest of the world.
The exhibition will be held at Palazzo Dandolo, a 16th century building that has not been used as a pavilion before during a Venice Biennale. The exhibition will insinuate Iraq into this first floor apartment, creating a salon atmosphere and interactive space where visitors can sit, read and learn about Iraqi culture and drink tea. In collaboration with the Iraq National Library and Archive, publications including books and comics will be available to read. The domestic atmosphere of the Palazzo will be retained to a large extent through the use of existing furniture and minimal imposition on current architectural features.
Explaining his curatorial approach, Jonathan Watkins says, “Artistic emphasis will be on the nature of everyday life as it is now lived in Iraq, exemplifying a determination ‘to make do and get by,’ an inventiveness borne out of necessity in extraordinary historical circumstances.’’
The list of artists participating will be announced during a talk at Art Dubai, at 11am on Thursday 21 March 2013 at Fort Island, Madinat Jumeirah.

An internationally renowned curator and writer, Jonathan Watkins has been Director of Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, since 1999. Previous positions include Curator of the Serpentine Gallery (1995-1997) and Director of Chisenhale Gallery (1990-1995). He has curated a number of significant international exhibitions including the Guangzhou Triennial (2012); Negotiations, Today Art Museum, Beijing (2010); Sharjah Biennial (2007); Shanghai Biennale (2006); Tate Triennial (2003); Facts of Life: Contemporary Japanese Art, Hayward Gallery, London (2001); Quotidiana, Castello di Rivoli, Turin (1999); and the Biennale of Sydney (1998). He was part of the curatorial team for Riwaq: Palestinian Biennial (2007); Milano Europa 2000, Palazzo di Triennale, Milan; and Europarte, Venice Biennale (1997).

Ruya Foundation for Contemporary Culture in Iraq (RUYA) is an Iraqi registered non-profit, non- governmental organization founded by Iraq art and culture enthusiasts with the aim of aiding and enriching culture in Iraq and building bridges with the world. The foundation’s goal is to promote and foster culture in Iraq at a time when priorities are focused elsewhere, and to build a platform that will enable Iraqis in the arts, the young in particular, to benefit from, and participate in international events. In addition to supporting local projects, its aim is to create a network of intercultural events that can contribute to the development of civil society in Iraq. It is also committed to nurturing a multicultural dialogue through the arts.

Photo: Saddam’s former Palace at the site of ancient Babylon and the modern city of Hilla Courtesy Ruya Foundation

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