Healing Arts Venice
Exploring the role of art and architecture in supporting mental and social health resilience in Iraq. Activated through the Pavilion of Iraq at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia
In 2021 Iraq participates for the first time ever in the International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, with artist Rashad Salim’s project ‘Ark Re-imagined: the Expeditionary Pavilion’. This year also marks the Centenary of the founding of the modern state of Iraq. Curated by Safina Projects, and with Community Jameel and CULTURUNNERS supporting production as piloti del padiglione (pavilion pilots), the pavilion returns to the origins of Iraq’s architectural legacy, celebrating the vernacular architecture and watercraft of the Tigris-Euphrates river system, and the seminal‘alphabet of making’ from which early architecture emerged.
Challenging standardised images of the Ark based on European boat-building techniques, Salim proposes ‘an Ark of its time and place’: an organic, tensile-built structure, its design derived from the vernacular construction techniques and boat types attributable to the period of the ancient Flood, a rise in sea level around 10,000 years ago that created what we know as the Gulf.
Rashad Salim’s ‘expeditionary art’ practice employs the concept of the Ark as a means of enquiry into Iraq’s material cultural heritage. Since 2016, the Ark Re-imagined project has engaged artisans across central, southern and western Iraq to revive and document what remains of traditional boatbuilding, architecture and craft practices. This heritage, sustained since earliest recorded history, has been brought to the brink of extinction during recent decades of devastating conflict and trauma.
Through outdoor installations and digital elements, the Expeditionary Pavilion will engage dynamically with its location, exploring links between Venice’s delta wetland environment and proud boating traditions, and those of Basra and the Ahwar (marshlands) of southern Iraq. Like Venice, southern Iraq now faces the critical challenge of the Anthropocene, a climate event comparable to the ancient Flood. Ark Re-imagined addresses the crises of our time through enquiring into the transformative processes that shaped human culture and remain urgently relevant to our fragile future.