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‘It’s timely but also belated’- reflecting a light on art inspired by two Iraq campaigns

In a brand-new show, over 250 artworks item the devastating effect of war on Iraq, something its curators accept has not been addressed culturally until now

As you walk into Moma PS1 in Queens, New York, tourists are reacted with an unlikely wall sculpture- the CNN logo at the end of an oversized gold chain.

It’s great for a selfie op, but there’s a deeper meaning to the artwork, established in 2002 by Thomas Hirschhorn. CNN played a pivotal role in speed up the 24 -hour news coverage of the Gulf war, defining the speed for conflict news.

This artwork is being shown as part of Theater of Operations: the Gulf Wars, 1991-2011, boasting over 250 artworks by 75 masters. It details the disastrous, gruesome effects of war, as told by western and Middle Eastern artists.

” We recognise there hasn’t been a major survey of Iraqi art in the US ,” said Peter Eleey, who co-curated the exhibition with Ruba Katrib.” Everyone wants to talk about the current conflict, but this conflict has been going on for 30 times. We’re looking at what an artist on one side of an issue reaches, versus another, sometimes on the same event .”

With the recent killing of the Isis chairman Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and with US troops leaving northern Syria and being deployed in eastern Syria, America’s armed proximity is as topical as ever. But for the artists who lived in Kuwait and Iraq in the 1990 s, what was it like to live through such horror?

” It’s timely but also belated, because this has not been addressed culturally ,” said Katrib.” Iraqi art has not been addressed; Iraqi culture make hasn’t been addressed either. But the US has been entangled in Iraq for three decades, so why has there been such a lack of representation, interest, or meter and cavity given to Iraqi culture production ?”

Good question. While America is slowly warming up to Middle Eastern art and culture( a new not-for-profit in Washington dedicated to Middle Eastern art opened in September, while an exhibit of female Iranian artists is opening next week at the High Line Nine in New York ), the 1991 Gulf war’s devastating impact has yet to be fully explored within art- at least that which has been shared with a wider western audience.

Thomas Thomas Hirschhorn- CNN, from 2002. Photograph: Nadja Sayej

The exhibition travels chronologically throughout three storeys, had begun paintings by Khalifa Qattan, the first ever Kuwaiti artist to have a solo exhibition. On view are paintings from his Prophecy series, constituted between the 1960 s and 1980 s, which were premonitions of battle. One self-portrait from 1984 shows the artist behind forbids, a analogy for the occupation of Kuwait.

” Once Iraq occupied Kuwait, he redefined his older work and claimed the point was prophecies of the coming invasion ,” said Katrib.

Some artists in the exhibition were exiled, while others are generated the performance of their duties from studios in New York.” It’s about the proximity creators have to conflict ,” said Eleey.” Not all the artists are making art from inside of Iraq during the war. One of its most important things that prowes does is that it’s testimony to personal experience, the life of a single person. Throughout the demo, we’ve tried to give examples of that .”

The Kuwaiti artist Thuraya Al-Baqsami is showing a photograph that reads’ No to the Invasion’ in Arabic from 1990. It was distributed ahead of the American intervention, but after activists were arrested- and 2 are implemented- Al-Baqsami stopped making the poster.

Also on view is Iraqi-British artist Dia al-Azzawi’s 1991 decorating Victim’s Portrait, which is based on the face of a dead Iraqi soldier who was burned alive by US airstrikes, while retreating from Kuwait. A photo of the soldier was taken by the American photojournalist Kenneth Jarecke and while American news shops refused to publish the gruesome image, it was published in the Observer under the headline:” The Real Face Of War .”

” It was a problematic PR moment for the US, because people were stunned the military forces would strike when soldiers were on retreat, counter to the image of the US at the time ,” said Katrib.

Michel Michel Auder- a still from Gulf War TV War. Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Martos Gallery, New York

On the same note, Michel Auder’s Gulf War TV War from 1991 was re-edited in 2017, combining information clips with entertainment.” This work is looking back in the era of fake news ,” said Eleey.” It’s not just news coverage, its commercial-grades and other TV demo, how it fit into a larger cultural time in 1991.”

Richard Serra’s Stop Bushdrawing from 2004 details some of the cool human rights violations against captives in Abu Ghraib in Iraq. And Judith Joy Ross’s photos from Gulf war rallies in Pennsylvania in 1990 were taken at a departing dinner for troops in Allentown.

” People forget this war was celebratory,[ that] parties were evoked about it ,” said Katrib.” Military technology promised a clean-cut, video game-like war. It was going to be a new prototype for battle; get a smart bomb, search out your target and you’re done, but that’s not what happened .”

Martha Rosler’s collages from the early 2000 s detail battle photos alongside upscale interior design magazine cutouts, creating a chilling comparison between the east and west.” There was a way to criticize a larger system of American militarization ,” said Eleey.

Unforgettable, extremely, are the Guerrilla Girls’ circular for their Estrogen Bomb, where they write:” Send estrogen pills to presidents, “ministers “, generals, oligarchs and CEOs everywhere ,” adding that” the world needs a new weapon .”

Nuha Nuha Al-Radi- Portrait of Zain Habboo. Photograph: Kris Grave

The exhibition peculiarities the spokespeople of Arab creators, such as Iraqi writer and master Nuha al-Radi, columnist of a journal called Baghdad Diaries, which chronicles her ordeal live their lives the first Gulf war, who wrote:” The west seems to have only three epitomes of Arabs- gunmen, lubricant sheiks and women covered in black from brain to toe. I’m not sure they know if there are ordinary human being who live here .”

A series from al-Radi’s scrap wood and metal carves from her Embargo Series are also on view. The people are shown alongside an excerpt from a diary introduction she wrote in 2003. She was disappointed Iraqi Cultural Week was canceled with the impending US invasion of Iraq. Everyone fled.” So merely the skill remains ,” al-Radi wrote. Referring to her wooden carves, she added:” They appear as if they are demonstrating, they represent the Iraqi parties and I am calling them’ We the people .'”

There is a room devoted to Jamal Penjweny’s 2010 photo lines Saddam is Here, where Iraqi people cover their faces with an image of Saddam Hussein.” He traveled across Iraq finding strangers to apply this paper face of Saddam over their face ,” said Katrib.” It was made after Saddam was killed, as the master felt precede governors were replicating the same plans .”

Also on present are illustrations by the Guardian writer Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who attained portrayals of Iraqi boys detained in south Baghdad during a US army raid in the early 2000 s. There’s also a mural by Dia al-Azzawi called Mission of Destruction, which was covered in response to the American invasion, which elicits a parallel to Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.

” We knew it “wouldve been” timely. It has been 30 times since numerous conflicts have centered around Iraq, in one way or another, but they’re chiefly western views on the conflict ,” said Eleey.

Katrib lent:” There are different perspective in this show. There isn’t just one here .”

Theater of Procedure: The Gulf Wars, 1991-2011 is showing at MoMA PS1 in Queens from 3 November until March 2020

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