Thursday, June 07, 2007

Memorial to the Iraq War

by Stella Moutafis

THERE SEEM to have been a lot of art reviews in the New Worker lately – well (and you can trust me on this) it is not just to fill the pages!
The point is, there has been much to see in London recently in the field of art with some political content. And as “Art” can serve to explore and reflect on social and political ideas, it has been worth covering. The continuing imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have inspired a new round of politically conscious modern artistic expression and this is reflected in a new exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London.
The ICA was established in 1947 by a collective of artists, poets and writers to showcase and champion contemporary culture across a wide range of art forms and it consists of two galleries, two cinemas, and a theatre all on one site, plus a bookshop, cafe,and bar. Its mission is “to be a home of new arts, culture, and ideas”.
For this exhibition, 26 artists were invited to submit proposals for a memorial to the Iraq War, addressing the invasion and occupation of the country, its slide into civil war and the conflict’s relation to global jihadism and the “war on terror”.
The mostly young contributors come from various countries in Europe, the Arab world, Afghanistan, and the United States. With the stated aim to “encourage debate about how this episode in history might be remembered,” this exhibition is the result. Obviously, though, the conflict is very much still ongoing.
There is work in various mediums, on both Iraq and related subjects, such as the “war on terror” and the US concentration camp at Guantánamo Bay.
Just a few of the very varied works on offer include: The American artist Nate Lowman, whose presentation of burnt-out American petrol-pumps from the 1950s and 60s represents both the “American Dream” and what US involvement in the Middle East is all about and what makes that “dream” possible!
Afghan artist Lida Abdu has created a series of 10 postcards entitled A history of the world through ruins. Not at all “wish you were here” type images – but photos of destruction either directly or indirectly the result of the “war on terror” in Afghanistan.
Memorial 2007 by Swiss artist Christoph Buchel is an initially puzzling series of three rooms, representing a drug administration room waiting area, and an empty white room.The storyline is the supposed giving to users of powdered drugs and body ashes of victims of war, to induce a ‘trip’ to be experienced inside the white void. The faithfully-reproduced hospital details are instantly recognisable by those of us who have spent some time in such places!
Performance art, also on offer, includes “Fallujah”, which is we are told based on verbatim testimony from the heart of the war zone.
The venue for an exhibition on this subject is ironic - The Mall, London, being within an area that could be described as “British Imperialism Central”. Our supposed ruler is one of the ICA’s neighbours here; her home — Buckingham Palace is just round the corner.
There may well be visitors to Her Majesty who might benefit from some instruction in the subject of the inhumanity that imperialist states mete out in pursuit of their ruling class’ agenda. If so ,they should stroll across to the ICA for this exhibition....and, maybe, have some enlightenment!

The Memorial to the Iraq war exhibition continues until 27th June. The ICA is located on The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH. Galleries open daily 12pm – 7.30pm (9pm on Thursdays) during exhibitions and the admission price is £2.00.