Thursday, October 29, 2009

It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq

I'm one of the speakers at this show. I will be at the MCA Sunday November 8, from 1:30 to 4:30.

It’s hard to look away from the car—or rather, what used to be a car—lying in a first-floor gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), where “Jeremy Deller: It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq” brings together Iraqi émigrés, American soldiers, schoolkids and surprised tourists six days a week.

Caught in a March 2007 bombing in Baghdad, the car is now a rusted, twisted hunk of metal. It could be mistaken for an abstract sculpture if not for the photographs surrounding it: One shows Al Mutanabbi, the street where the bombing took place, some time before the incident—when it was thronged with booksellers. Another photo captures the street just after the bombing: Two rescue workers scream for help amid heaps of charred rubble.

Deller’s counterpoint to the car is a set of cushy white chairs surrounding a low table. The English artist, who implemented this project at museums in New York and Los Angeles earlier this year, wants experts on Iraq to engage museum visitors in a dialogue about the region. The MCA’s Tricia Van Eck and Diana Nawi coordinated an impressive roster of local presenters, including Donny George Youkhanna, former director of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad, and Maj. Tammy Duckworth, an official in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs who served in Iraq and ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008.

When we attended “It Is What It Is,” curatorial staff served tea and Middle Eastern sesame-seed cookies while facilitating discussions with the experts and visitors. Some people hover briefly but don’t sit down; others stay for hours. “One of our speakers, [Iraqi-American filmmaker] Usama Alshaibi, says this is the Iraqi thing to do,” Nawi explains. “You invite someone to share sweets and tea with you.”

Article by By Lauren Weinberg. Read more: