18 April 2010

War and pieces

I swung by the private view of the new Contemporary Art Iraq exhibition on Thursday evening not really knowing what to expect. Sometimes I like to do that: bob along to see something I know nothing about in advance, just so I don't have any preconceptions. The last thing I expected was to be met by the smell of incense as I climbed the steep Cornerhouse stairs; the next last thing I expected was that the Iraqi government would start following me on Twitter after I mentioned the preview in passing. (They've since stopped following me, for which I'm quite relieved.)

The blurb informs me that this is "the first comprehensive UK exhibition of new and recent contemporary art from Iraq since the first Gulf War" and features 19 Iraq-based artists. The galleries are categorised into "Of Time And Tradition", "The Changing City" and "Protest", and the works range from soundscape and video through scuplture and installation to painting and photography.

It was the photographic work that struck me the most. In Gallery 1, Bhrhm Taib H Ameen's highly saturated but almost soft focus full-length portraits of the same man adopting various positions while wearing different ethnic dress highlight the various cultures attempting to live side by side in the fragmented country.

In Gallery 2, I very much enjoyed Qalat by Bitwen Ali Hamad, which documents a man as he traverses a town with a leaking bucket, watched with curiosity by children, soldiers and other people just wandering down the street behind him. It reminded me of the Rosemarie Castoro work at the Whitworth's Subversive Spaces show last year and the first frame is really powerful, overexposed and distorting in the heat and bright light so the man with the bucket is like an alien silhouette.

On the top floor, in Gallery 3, Jamal Penjweny has captured people of all ages and backgrounds mid-jump, in a series called Iraq Is Flying (pictured). Everyone looks happy and carefree, perhaps not jumping for joy, but at least rising above the difficulties of life in modern-day Iraq.

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