VENICE, MARCH 29 – The Iraq Museum of Baghdad is to display 40 ancient artefacts at the Venice Biennale this year, including several that were recently returned after its looting in 2003, following the American-led invasion. The exhibition will be the first time all the objects have been legally allowed out of the country.
Ancient clay pots, medical objects, musical instruments and figurines of deities and animals will be among the items on display, some of which date back to 6,100 BC. It will be the first time since 1988 that permission has been granted for anything from the museum’s collection to leave Iraq. Thanks to the assistance of the Italian Carabinieri, the Baghdad museum reopened in 2015 after being closed for 12 years while the stolen and smuggled objects taken during the invasion of Iraq were recovered.
A newly commissioned piece by the Belgian artist Francis Alÿs will also be shown in the Pavillon, called “Archaic”, as will works by contemporary artists including Sherko Abbas, Sadik Kwaish Alfraji and Ali Arkady. The Ruya Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on Iraq’s cultural heritage, organized the display which was curated by Iraqi historian Tamara Chalabi and Paolo Colombo.
“It is more important than ever that people outside of Iraq see these objects and understand their cultural significance, at a time when they are being nihilistically destroyed in Palmyra, in Nimrud, in Mosul,” said Chalabi, the daughter of Ahmed Chalabi who, as the leader of the exiled US-funded Iraqi National Congress, advised the government of George W Bush to go to war, in an interview to the Guardian: “These objects do have a universality that transcends geography and I think that’s such an important message to be relaying at this time and against the global backdrop of a place like Venice. It fights a cultural prejudice people have and the perception that there is no art now left in Iraq or nothing left worth saving.” (@OnuItalia)