Today marks the start of a very long journey. Some of the work by artists selected to participate in Welcome to Iraq is being dispatched from Baghdad to Venice. Ruya Foundation Chairman Tamara Chalabi is overseeing the process of crating and securing cargo transportation.

While there is always a risk involved in shipping art internationally, the lack of security on a journey by truck that takes 6 hours—remains a concern. But the challenges faced in getting the artwork to Venice are lessened when compared to the task of getting the artists themselves to Venice.

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As Iraqi citizens, all of the artists involved in Welcome to Iraq will require visas from the Italian government in order to visit Venice. The guarantees needed are extremely complicated according to EU regulation, as is the artists’ access to the Embassy that is located in the Green Zone. Tamara Chalabi arranged special transportation to take in all the artists, several of whom came as far as Kurdistan, Basra and Babylon. We are hoping that all the artists involved will be able to come and experience Venice and the Biennale in May.

The Biennale represents a world stage to showcase their practice to the international art community and hopefully to encourage more widespread engagement with the burgeoning contemporary art scene back in Iraq.

Artist Furat al Jamil, who holds dual Iraqi and German citizenship, describes her feelings about the extent to which Welcome to Iraq will provide visitors with an education about the cultural scene in Iraq, saying, ‘I am under no illusion that our art work can educate an international audience about Iraq’s art scene. Visitors will barely have the time to enjoy our work because they will want to see as many art works from around the world as possible. However, such events can draw attention to Iraqi art. This seems to be a limited objective, but in fact we will be surrounded by an educated and demanding audience that knows as well as loves art and might decide to consider Iraqi art in particular. I think it is very important to make an introduction and leave it to the audience to judge for themselves.’

Photographer Jamal Penjweny discusses his wish for the Pavilion of Iraq to foster a sense of communal healing in Iraq, saying, ‘The 2003 invasion paved the way for a leadership change. But ten years have proven that is not enough. As individuals in a society we challenge a policy made to segregate individuals in their own identities and confront our fears. I want people to realise that all the figures in [my photographic series] “Saddam is Here” – no matter whether in Baghdad, Erbil, Basra or Fallujah—are all human beings with a shared history of fear that we should overcome together. Art has a leading role in this!’

The journey from Baghdad to Venice has begun! This same route that was for centuries part of the notorious Silk Road, only instead of spices and textile then, it is art today.

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