First Dinner

12 Nov

After settling at our hotel we met with two Iraqi artists for dinner, Gaylan Abdullah Ismail and Rebeen Majeed. Gaylan is a young artist based in Erbil and has been working primarily with performance and public art interventions. A recent work involved inviting over two dozen people to occupy a roundabout in the middle of a busy intersection. This embodiment of the architecture, highlighted one of the major problems in this part of the country, traffic. The rapid growth and expansion of the city has made cars essential to everyday life and the city is overflowing with new vehicles brought in since 2003. This 4-wheel euphoria has created an ad-hoc driving culture where it seems people are largely left to make up their own rules which has lead to a large number of traffic accidents and fatalities. The large intersection of two expansive streets where the work took place is typical of the new infrastructure of the city. A painted roundabout in the center was no more than a decoration on the landscape and the traffic police were largely indifferent to how the cars moved through the space. By physically sitting around the ring, placing themselves visibly at risk, one can see in the video documentation that cars began to respond and follow the intended geometry of the space, creating a more fluid movement. Furthermore the intervention was a catalyst for the traffic police who sprung into action directing traffic around the circle of bodies.

Rebeen Majeed from Sulaymaniyah, was in London in 2008 as part of residency. He set up stands in various parts of the city from Canary Wharf to Westfield Shopping Center in Shepard’s Bush, where he invited people to eat free watermelon. Focusing on how our everyday desires can spill over, spoil and soil ourselves, those participating were given gigantic slices which were cut in such a way that one had to immerse one’s face in the fruit an inevitably get messy. Bibs were offered to help ease individual’s fears that their clothes might get dirty, adding an infantile appearance to the spectacle.

On our way to the dinner we engaged in an impromptu game of Frogger, dodging traffic to cross the massive boulevards that brought into vivid detail the harrowing everyday experience of simply traversing the road that Gaylan’s work alludes to. We made it to the new restaurant which spanned a football field in length and served traditional Kurdish cuisine. We sat outside on the refreshing evening and shared a feast of chicken, rice, hummus, fresh bread, sauces, salad and traditional roasted chicken pie.

We talked about the burgeoning art scene in both Erbil and Sulaymaniyah which have a threadbare arts infrastructure as the government, who is the major sponsor of culture, has been focusing on other priorities. There are a few private galleries in both cities and a couple museums that tend to show more traditional painting and sculpture. There have been a surprising number of foreign artists and curators who pass through the area and will hold occasional workshops and meetings. The situation has created an ambience of improvisation where artists will collaborate together to hold group shows. The role of artist/curator has become more prevalent as artists take the initiative to hold shows in non-traditional venues such as a show Rebeen organized in a construction site around the idea of transformation.

After a lovely evening together we headed back out onto the exciting roads of Erbil.

Feast with Gaylan Abdullah Ismail and Rebeen Majeed

Gaylan Abdullah Ismail – Traffic

Rebeen Majeed in London with the watermelon project

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