'Not About Bombs' opens at Intermedia Arts

'My Window' by Tamara Abdul Hadi
'My Window' by Tamara Abdul Hadi
Photo Courtesy the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project

In a stunning photograph by Tamara Abdul Hadi, titled My Window, seven female figures all in black veils stand in line to receive their monthly widow's pension. In Iraq, there are a million widows, the majority of whom have lost their husbands during the war. Hadi's stark, black-and-white image eloquently presents this reality. Like the other Iraqi women artists featured in "Not About Bombs," Intermedia Arts' most recent exhibition, she offers an alternative viewpoint that shows how Iraqi women have survived in the aftermath of the violence.

Adjacent to My Window is another series of photographs by Hadi, called The Next Generation, which depicts young women waving flags upon graduation. Contrasted with My Window, this piece offers a glimmer of hope in the wake of years of war and conflict. The young women, proud and hopeful, look to the future for themselves and their country. 
From 'Flight' by Sundus Abdul Hadi (in collaboration with photography by Tamara Abdul Hadi)
From 'Flight' by Sundus Abdul Hadi (in collaboration with photography by Tamara Abdul Hadi)

Hadi also collaborated with her sister, Sundus Abdul Hadi, in a series of digital prints on canvas called Flight. The works evoke a similar feeling of hope, although in a more disquieting, enigmatic form. Sundus has taken photography that Tamara snapped from a plane traveling over Iraq and inserted images of young men flying into the air. The series evokes both suicide and liberation, and embraces the notion that to be free, you have to risk everything. The works capture the fervor and spirit of the Arab spring, suggesting that, at the cusp of change throughout the region, it takes the courage of letting everything go to imagine a new future. 

Sundus Abdul Hadi is the only artist whose work in the show depicts male figures. But while Flight doesn't specifically address concerns that are unique to women, it doesn't exclude them either. 
Baghdadi Mem/Wars by Sama Alshaibi and Dena Al-Adeeb
Baghdadi Mem/Wars by Sama Alshaibi and Dena Al-Adeeb
Photo courtesy the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project

Julie Adnan, on the other hand, specifically addresses stereotyping and the way that Arab women are depicted/objectified through the media in her work The Cloth Speaks. Adnan, who is the only artist featured in the show who still lives in Iraq, has taken a number portraits of French actress and director Manon Heugel in various outfits, from tight and loose fitting western-style clothing, to different types of traditional clothing, to full burqas, to the model wearing a black veil and sporting a semi-automatic weapon. By using a white woman for the images, Adnan calls to question the judgments and assumptions that a western eye makes when looking at articles of clothing. 

Finally, there is Baghdadi Mem/Wars by Sama Alshaibi and Dena Al-Adeeb, which includes three sections of photographs and video projected in the exhibit. In the first section, Absence/Presence, two women wander amidst a white landscape of snow, seemingly lost and unable to find each other. This piece shows the isolation and feeling of loss that occurs in the war's aftermath, particularly for those who have left the country, and have lost a sense of place and identity as their home country has been torn apart.

The second section, Still/Chaos, depicts two female figures trapped in a white room with padded walls that slowly get closer and closer together, trapping the figures. While the image of an enclosing box is slightly cliché, the visual effect of the figures, dressed in black against the white walls, creating shapes as the walls get closer, is captivating indeed, and creates a sense of emotional urgency. 
From 'The Cloth Speaks' by Julie Adnan
From 'The Cloth Speaks' by Julie Adnan
The last section is Efface/Remain and shows a woman furiously scribbling one sentence over and over: "With the passing of time silence is like the mood of winter." The phrase is by Nazik Al Malaika, a poet from Iraq. There's an anxiety to this piece, and a message of how crucial it is to document what has happened. Tradition tells us that history books are told by the victors, and the artists here make a courageous statement that the people from Iraq -- particularly the women -- long to ensure that their version of the story is told. 

That, in effect, is what is so powerful about the whole exhibit. The Iraqi Reconciliation Project, who has organized various related exhibitions, has been excellent to date in including Iraqi voices and points of view, even as the war has ended and now American troops have come home. The focus on women artists for this exhibit is commendable in itself, and offers a powerful survey of work. 


"Not About Bombs"
Curated by Tricia Khutoretsky, presented by The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP) and Intermedia Arts
The opening reception is on Friday, February 3 at 7 p.m.
Intermedia Arts
2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
The exhibit runs through March 3

Baghdadi Mem/Wars Project: 2010 from Dena Al-Adeeb on Vimeo.

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