One of the many highlights of last year’s Venice Biennale was the Iraqi pavilion. More than simply an exhibition of artworks, it felt like a home that happened to have art on display. Visitors were invited in for tea and could thumb through the books on the tables.
We’re glad to report that this exhibition has now arrived in London and remains relatively unchanged, complete with traditional Iraqi biscuits — we recommend the date-flavoured ones. The gallery is filled with books about Iraq that you can read while sat on colourful sofas but there is also native Iraqi art on display.
The satirical cartoonist Abdul Raheem Yassir has created humorous takes on Iraqi life, including an artist painting a still life of a falling bomb and a news correspondent trying to interview a drowning man rather than helping him. One of our bugbears around video art is having to sit on an uncomfortable square box in a gallery, so it’s refreshing to have the chance to sink into a sofa and watch it on a projector or on one of two laptops — as if you were watching it at home.
Upstairs Yaseen Wami and Hashim Taeeh have created a bedroom and living room, primarily out of cardboard, complete with a bed, picture frames and even a working radio. The work across this exhibition might not always resonate with viewers but the sheer variety of it makes for an engaging selection. Though the art can often be political, the spirit of the show is to also focus on the positives of Iraq such as the traditional Arabic hospitality that is seen in the welcoming layout of this show.
Our one slight on this exhibition is that the austere white walls of the gallery do remove some of the quaint homely feel that the pavilion had in Venice. Despite this, the exhibition still retains much of its charm. Enjoying art in comfort, with tea and biscuits in hand, makes for a great experience.
Welcome to Iraq is on at South London Gallery, 65-67 Peckham Road, SE5 8UH until 1 June. Entrance is free.