GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Iraqi Art and the GCC:Creating a Space for Artists in Exile
Paper Proposal Text :
The GCC is rapidly establishing itself as cultural hub and space for modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art. The opening of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha (December 2010), Saadiyat Island’s museum projects, Sharjah Museum, Barjeel Art Foundation, auction houses, and the large number of commercial galleries present in the region demonstrate the growing investment and interest in contemporary art and artists. For artists in exile and of the diaspora (particularly those from Iraq and Iran), the Gulf’s art collections, artists’ residencies, exhibitions and publications present a new, alternative space for creative expression, also providing a replacement home for expatriate artists to display and realise their works.

In October 2010, Meem Gallery in Dubai, launched a five-part Iraqi art exhibition series titled Art in Iraq Today (curated by artist Dia Al-Azzawi and Charles Pocock, Managing Director of Meem, sponsored by Crescent Petroleum). The project, which included the production of the book Art in Iraq Today (Milan: Skira and Meem, 2011, launched at Abu Dhabi Art), brought together a group of Iraqi artists with varying working methodologies, whom are united in their experience of exile.

The emigration of Iraqi civilians, including artists, started in the 1980s because of the Iran-Iraq War, accelerating during the Gulf War, and the situation resulting from the crippling economic sanctions imposed on the country. Having spent their formative years as artists in Iraq, the exhibition series and publication documents their continuing contribution to Iraqi, Arab and international art. Indeed, this project not only presented audiences with the recent work of two generations of artists but also demonstrated the way in which Dubai (and the GCC) plays a significant role in the support of Iraqi artists in exile.

The project also exposed the experiences of the artists to different audiences (the international community in the Emirates and later in Beirut) who could engage with the exploration of themes related to homeland, war and heritage. The development of Iraq’s modern art scene is particularly interesting in relation to the creative negotiation of tradition and modernity and perhaps presents young artists of the Gulf with an example to consider in the development of their own work. Furthermore, the experiences of the ‘eighties generation’ of artists in Iraq (many of whom were involved in Meem’s project) presents an engaging case study for scholars and artists interested in examining the dialogue between cultural heritage and contemporary visual culture—issues which are particularly relevant in the creation of an artistic identity within a global context.

During the eighties, young Iraqi artists had the opportunity to study under prominent exponents of the modern art movement including, most notably, Shakir Hassan Al Said, one of the founders of the One-Dimension Group. Al Said encouraged his students to follow and develop their own creative trajectory and stressed the importance of referencing Iraqi heritage, particularly the forms and symbols found in Mesopotamian art. This approach was initiated by 1950s modern Iraqi art pioneer Jewad Selim and continued during the 1960s by Dia Al-Azzawi, a key figure in the modern art movement and one of the founders of the New Vision Group.

Studying and exhibiting amid the ruination of their homeland places the artists of the eighties generation in a particularly unique position. Political changes not only affected them personally -reinforcing their interest in tradition and identity - but also in terms of their ideological and technical approach to art. Sanctions greatly limited access to art materials, leading many artists to incorporate readymade or ‘found’ objects into their work—an approach which several have continued with after leaving Iraq. Opportunities for exhibiting art work became increasingly difficult, and state control of the arts blighted potential for creativity. Following the 2003 US invasion, it soon became untenable, mainly for security and financial reasons, for remaining artists to stay in the country.
Looking at the background of these artists and the formation of modern art in Iraq, this paper will examine the work exhibited at Meem in relation to the idea of the GCC as a space and ‘home’ for contemporary Iraqi art.

Further information:

Research methodology:
I will look at the works and artists included in the exhibition series; historical and contemporary cultural and political contexts; and will interview the artists and others involved in the project to further investigate the role of the GCC as a space for artists in exile.

Artists included:
Modhir Ahmed, Himat M. Ali, Dia Al-Azzawi, Ahmed Al-Bahrani, Amar Dawod, Ghassan Ghaib, Ali Jabbar, Halim Al-Karim, Nedim Kufi, Hanaa Malallah, Rafa Al-Nasiri, Mahmoud Obaidi, Kareem Risan, Delair Shaker, Ali Talib and Nazar Yahya.

Past Exhibition & Events Timetable:
Part I, October 2010 – Modhir Ahmed, Hanaa Malallah, Nedim Kufi
Part II, November 2010 – Ghassan Ghaib, Kareem Risan, Nazar Yahya
Part III, February 2011 – Himat M. Ali, Amar Dawod, Delair Shaker
Part IV, March 2011 – Dia Al-Azzawi, Rafa Ali-Nasiri, Ali Talib
Part V, May 2011 – Ali Jabbar, Halim Al-Karim, Mahmoud Obaidi
13 November – 3 December 2011: Art in Iraq Today: Conclusion show and Book Launch, Meem Gallery
17 November 2011: Book Launch and Abu Dhabi Art Talk: The Legacy of Iraqi Art , Abu Dhabi Art
23 November 2011: Group Exhibition and Book Launch, Beirut Exhibition Centre

Book Content:
Published by Skira and Meem, sponsored by Crescent Petroleum
Edited by Samar Faruqi
Bilingual (English and Arabic)
Essays by Dia Al-Azzawi, Charles Pocock, Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, May Muzaffar, Farouk Yousif, Nada Shabout, Samar Faruqi, Georges Rabbath
Includes artist statements, exhibition lists and colour plates