Welcome To Iraq

Art Free
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Originally displayed in the Iraqi pavilion during least year’s Venice Biennale (only the second time the country has participated in the global art megalith), this fascinating exhibition is a primer on artists working in Iraq – as opposed to the sizeable number of Iraqi artists working abroad. Its British curator, Jonathan Watkins, has sought out as many creative approaches as possible from inside the country’s battered borders.The result, inevitably, is a rather jumbled show.

Painting is represented both by Kadhim Nwir’s enticingly doodly, kaleidoscopic abstractions and by Bassim Al-Shaker’s much more traditional, academic depictions of agricultural labourers in marshland country. Work that comments on media coverage of events in the country ranges from newspaper cartoons by Abdul Raheem Yassir, satirising Iraqis who watch news unfolding in their own backyard, to Cheeman Ismaeel’s elaborately painted, text-covered television set, which looks like some sort of mad, outsider-art object.

Tying it all together is an exhibition design that evokes a middle-eastern living room: sofas for you to lounge on, beautifully patterned pillows and rugs, tables piled high with books about Iraqi culture. It’s homely, but the layout’s a bit tough on some of the filmmakers in the show, whose work only plays on laptops on coffee tables. It’s probably no coincidence that the two single most effective pieces – the WAMI collective’s furniture made from recycled cardboard, and Jamal Penjweny’s riveting documentaries about liquor smugglers and gun sellers – are given their own, self-contained spaces. Whether this is in recognition of the works’ quality, or is the cause of their greater impact, though, is difficult to say.

Gabriel Coxhead

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