The description is submitted to:


Session C5030 (Usurpation: The Untold Stories of the Iraq War 2003-Present), 2017
Trials and Tribulations: Contemporary Iraqi Artists in Diaspora

Since 2003, an increased number of Iraqi artists have been resettled around the world. A good number of them made it to the US. While they were well established as accomplished artists in Iraq and the Arab countries, no one knew them in the US. Upon arrival, they had to deal with two important factors that continually directs their production of art: first, they had to face the lack of knowledge about Iraqi art and its absence from the canon of western art history, and second that they could not support their families through making art. Unlike in Iraq, there is no government sponsorship in the US, and the majority of American artists are struggling to find their place in a very competitive art market. Iraqi artists, thus, had to learn a new system and compete with young American artists for gallery representation and to carve space for their work. Few succeeded but the majority did not. Mostly, they waited to be naturalized to revive their contacts with galleries in Jordan and the Arab world, where there is a market for their work. They would thus exhibit and sell their work in the Arab world and bring money back to support their families. Most importantly, they still need the Arab world for validation.

Meanwhile, this year Iraqi art is again represented at the Venice Biennale. Organized by the Ruya Foundation, the first return of Iraq to the Biennale was in 2011. This year’s theme is the Archaic, and the pavilion includes ancient artifacts as well as contemporary art from inside of Iraq as well as diaspora.

This presentation follows the lives and careers of a number of Iraqi artists who came to the US as refugees. It maps their struggles and accomplishments in relationship to a larger context of what is contemporary Iraqi art today and what does its representation around the world mean to its history of art.