Welcome… To Which Iraq?
“Welcome to Iraq” is the title of the 2013 pavilion of Iraq, ostensibly chosen to offer a welcome to a different side of Iraq. Rather than daily bombings, legendary corruption, or the unfolding of an unprecedented military – corporate – prison complex, the pavilion purports to provide an opportunity to discover Iraq through a selected series of artworks by artists living across the country.
Through promotional videos put forth by the organizers themselves, British curator, Jonathan Watkins, and commissioner, Tamara Chalabi, are shown being escorted by security, perusing paintings and holding meetings. The videos appear almost out of time, with the grey haired, bespectacled Watkins unassumingly assuming the character of orientalist discoverer, though rather than the era of British colonialism in Iraq, the military personnel required for this curatorial adventure speaks directly to the ever – reverberating violence of the American – led occupation that continues to rip apart the country today.
Indeed, Iraqi commissioner Chalabi is known as an author, but more widely as the daughter and supporter of, her father, Ahmed Chalabi, perhaps most notorious for being on the CIA’s multi-million dollar payroll for decades and playing a central role in advocating and pushing for the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq. Fortunately for Watkins then, the kind of military security and Green Zone access one might need to feel “welcomed” into Iraq can be provided if commissioned by the right political figure. Which brings into question the role of curators in perpetuating particular political facades of neutrality and the often problematic frameworks of patronage.
Unfortunately for the Iraqi artists in the video, waiting to find out if they might be selected for a chance at Venice, security remains out of reach. There are no guided tours and museums remain closed. Attacks on artists and intellectuals, a paralyzing brain drain, crippling isolation, and rampant corruption pours billions of dollars into self-serving projects that hardly effect the rehabilitation of Iraq’s educational or artistic infrastructure.
Can life for artists, or anyone in Iraq for that matter, be called anything close to welcoming?Anonymous