Baghdad pop-up show could rise from the ruins

Artists hope to restage exhibition first seen in bombed-out shopping centre


Artists hope to restage an exhibition in Baghdad that first took place in a bomb-blasted shopping centre in the Iraqi capital at the end of August. Within hours, the pop-up exhibition, titled Karrada, was shut down by the police.

The Iraqi-Canadian artist Riyadh Hashim brought together 16 artists for the pop-up show in the ruins of the Al-Hadi shopping centre in the Karrada district on 30 August, after a suicide truck bomb and a co-ordinated roadside device killed more than 300 people on 3 July. Responsibilty for the attack was later claimed by Islamic extremists. Hashim and his colleagues mobilised artists from across the country and beyond to express their solidarity with victims of terror in Iraq and elsewhere, hoping to turn a symbol of violence and sectarianism into a beacon of hope.

Despite verbal permission from the mayoralty of Baghdad, police closed down the Karrada exhibition after only four hours—but not before Iraqi television and 150 visitors had seen the show. Among them were two boys from the neighbourhood who helped the artists with their installations. “Many of their friends were killed in the bombing,” says Hashim, adding: “We wept with them for their loss.”

Hashim’s own work I Am All of Them, a mobile of Photoshopped images of the artist’s face blended with those of terror victims in Orlando, London, Paris and Baghdad, was one of many powerful pieces in the show. “When I first walked into the building, I felt the souls of the victims still floating in mid-air,” he says.

He transported the work 180km from his studio in Diwanyah to Baghdad by taxi, installing it the night before the exhibition opened on 30 August.

Hard-hitting installations Other highlights included London-based Hanaa Mallalah’s charcoal work Biohazard, the design for which she emailed from her studio and asked participating artist Nadia Flaih to install. Flaih’s own work, Saviour, featuring fire hoses connected to blood bags in front of a crater-like hole, is typical of the bold installations.

Textile artist Dhuha al Khatib created The Elevator, suspending fabric hands in the burnt-out cage of the lift where eight members of the same family died. Her work The Doll featured toy plastic blackbirds emblazoned with Isil’s logo poised for attack.

A performance piece called Victim DNA, in which two artists from Babylon covered each other in black paint and then offered charcoal “remains” on paper plates encased in plastic, was one of the more experimental projects.

“This kind of work is very new to Baghdad,” says Hashim, where politically inoffensive abstract expressionism honed during years of dictatorship still enjoys official sanction. Subject to funding, Hashim hopes to bring Canadian artists on board for the second iteration of Karrada.

Correction: we originally reported that the Ruya Foundation for Contemporary Culture in Iraq was due to restage the Karrada exhibition in November. A spokeswoman for not-for-profit foundation says that the artists approached Ruya for funding but the foundation decided not to take any involvement forward.