The Ruya Foundation for Contemporary Culture in Iraq (Ruya) is pleased to announce its plans for the National Pavilion of Iraq at the 56th Venice Biennale in May 2015. The exhibition, Invisible Beauty, will be curated by Philippe Van Cauteren, Artistic Director of S.M.A.K. (Museum for Contemporary Art) in Ghent.
It will feature five contemporary artists from across Iraq and the diaspora. The artists work in a range of media and the Pavilion will include new works that have been produced specifically for the exhibition as well as works that have been rediscovered after long periods of inattention.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a display of over 500 drawings made by refugees in northern Iraq.
‘Invisible Beauty’ refers both to the unusual or unexpected subjects in the works that will be on display and to the inevitable invisibility of Iraqi artists on the international stage. The relationship of art to survival, record-keeping, therapy and beauty are amongst the many themes raised by the exhibition.
The endlessly interpretable title is intended to reveal the many different ways of approaching art generated by a country that has been subjected to war, genocide, violations of human rights and, in the last year, the rise of Isis. The systematic demolition of the cultural heritage of Iraq by Isis, seen recently in the destruction of centuries-old historical sites at Hatra, Nimrud and Nineveh and the events at the Mosul Museum, has made it more important than ever to focus on artists continuing to work in Iraq.
Curator Philippe Van Cauteren has said: ‘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.’
The artists in the exhibition will comprise two generations of Iraqi photographers, in the shape of Latif Al Ani and Akam Shex Hadi, performance artist Rabab Ghazoul, ceramicist and sculptor Salam Atta Sabri and painter Haider Jabbar. This selection was chosen by Van Cauteren following a journey to Iraq that was organised and facilitated by Ruya and carried out in company with Tamara Chalabi, the Foundation’s Chair and Co-founder. Van Cauteren and Chalabi also visited Iraqi artists working in the US, Turkey, Belgium and the UK.
Both Al Ani and Atta Sabri are based in Baghdad, whilst Shex Hadi is based in Iraqi Kurdistan and Jabbar and Ghazoul work outside of Iraq, in Turkey and Wales respectively. A great number of Iraqi artists continue to practise an orthodox aesthetic tradition that is constrained by classical education methods.
The Pavilion artists represent a break from these traditional constraints, both in terms of style and media and in terms of wider social concerns such as gender and age. All of the artists relate to the current political situation in their work, negotiating between ethics and aesthetics, social concerns and artistic values.
With the artists’ ranging ages, the exhibition in some ways represents a mental and emotional history of Iraq and seeks to ask what the word ‘contemporary’ can mean for a nation that lacks a well developed cultural infrastructure.
As more and more ancient sites and shrines that are part of the universal heritage of Iraq are being destroyed, Ruya believes it is more important than ever to focus on artists who continue to work in such difficult circumstances. The Pavilion will provide a platform to make these artists visible.