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

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, guests are accosted with an unlikely wall figure- the CNN logo at the end of an oversized golden chain.

It’s great for a selfie op, but there’s a deeper meaning to the artwork, created in 2002 by Thomas Hirschhorn. CNN played a pivotal role in speeding up the 24 -hour news coverage of the Gulf war, specifying the pace for crusade news.

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

” We realise there hasn’t been a major investigation 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 years. We’re looking at what an artist on one side of an issue represents, versus another, sometimes on the same event .”

With the recent killing of the Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and with US units leaving northern Syria and being deployed in eastern Syria, America’s armed spirit 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 fright?

” It’s timely but likewise belated, because this has not been addressed culturally ,” said Katrib.” Iraqi art has not been addressed; Iraqi cultural yield 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 day and room given to Iraqi cultural product ?”

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

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

The exhibition moves chronologically throughout three floorings, starting with paints by Khalifa Qattan, the first ever Kuwaiti artist to have a solo exhibition. On view are depicts from his Prophecy series, prepared between the 1960 s and 1980 s, which were omen of struggle. One self-portrait from 1984 shows the artist behind bars, a metaphor for the occupation of Kuwait.

” Once Iraq infested Kuwait, he redefined his older work and claimed they only prophecies of the coming invasion ,” said Katrib.

Some creators in the exhibition were exiled, while some created their work from studios in New York.” It’s about the proximity artists have to conflict ,” said Eleey.” Not all the artists are making art from inside of Iraq during the war. One of the key things that prowes does is that it’s testament to personal experience, the life of a single person. Throughout the show, we’ve tried to give examples of that .”

The Kuwaiti artist Thuraya Al-Baqsami is showing a publication that reads’ No to the Invasion’ in Arabic from 1990. It was distributed ahead of the American intervention, but after activists were arrested- and two others were 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 stores 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 shocked 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 master and Martos Gallery, New York

On the same note, Michel Auder’s Gulf War TV War from 1991 was re-edited in 2017, blending report clips with entertainment.” This work is looking back in the era of fake news ,” said Eleey.” It’s not just news coverage, its commercials and other TV indicates, how it fit into a larger culture minute in 1991.”

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

” People forget this war was celebratory,[ that] parties were provoked about it ,” said Katrib.” Military technology predicted a clean-cut, video game-like war. It was going to be a new model for conflict; 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 item engagement 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, too, are the Guerrilla Girls’ advertising for their Estrogen Bomb, where they write:” Send estrogen pills to presidents, “ministers “, generals, oligarchs and CEOs everywhere ,” adding that” the world needs a brand-new weapon .”

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

The exhibition boasts the voices of Arab creators, such as Iraqi writer and creator Nuha al-Radi, author of a notebook called Baghdad Diaries, which chronicles her event living through the first Gulf war, who wrote:” The west seems to have only three epitomes of Arabs- gunmen, oil sheiks and women covered in black from top to toe. I’m not sure they know if there are ordinary human beings who live here .”

A series from al-Radi’s scrap timber and metal carves from her Embargo Series are also on view. The fleshes are shown alongside an excerpt from a diary entry 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 contributed:” They look as if they are demonstrating, they represent the Iraqi beings 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 beings cover their faces with an image of Saddam Hussein.” He traveled across Iraq finding strangers to throw this paper face of Saddam over their face ,” said Katrib.” It was made after Saddam was killed, as the creator felt subsequent leaders were replicating the same programmes .”

Also on appearance are sketches by the Guardian writer Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who stimulated attracts of Iraqi soldiers 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 coated in response to the American invasion, which describes a parallel to Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.

” We knew it would be timely. It has been 30 years since numerous conflicts have centered around Iraq, in one way or another, but they’re chiefly western views on existing conflicts ,” said Eleey.

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

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

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