SOAS University of London


Strokes of Genius

Contemporary Iraqi Art


16 October - 8 December 2000


Throughout history, Mesopotamia has been referred to as the 'Cradle of Civilisation' and its art, treasured in museums worldwide is praised as one of the greatest achievements of mankind. Today, Iraqi art forms an important facet of the kaleidoscope of global contemporary art to which the artists contribute with a diverse yet distinct vocabulary formed by their unique artistic, cultural and religious roots.

Due to recent world events, as a result of which many Iraqis have had to seek alternative existences outside their homeland, an innovative body of artworks by Iraqi artists has emerged and taken shape. Many of these address contemporary themes informed by the complexities of the artists' lives, be it outside Iraq, in the distressed position of being an 'other', or indeed within Iraq, where day to day survival has become for many an enormous struggle and an unprecedented burden. A culmination of a colossal five-year effort, this historical undertaking intends to bring together Iraq's scattered 'talents in the wind' and communicate the positive and creative energies of Iraqi artists dispersed throughout the world today.


London, 2000 will witness the launch of the Strokes of Genius exhibition at the Brunei Gallery/SOAS. This will continue to tour other UK cities throughout 2001, and travel to the USA in 2002. Further complementary exhibitions dealing with the early exponents of twentieth century Iraqi art: 'Pioneers and Successors' and 'Iraqi Artists: Works on Paper' will be shown at two other London galleries, both acclaimed for their association with arts from the Arab, Middle East and Moslem world. In all, together with educational programmes, such presentations will provide viewers with an insight to contemporary Iraqi art since its establishment up to the present day.


Strokes of Genius Exhibitions
In order to expose the extensive artistic talent and spectrum of Iraqi artists to a wider audience and given the amount of quality material accumulated through the international survey, a selection procedure was inevitable. An expert panel of art professionals with an interest in and knowledge of the contemporary Middle Eastern art scene was brought together to advise and help finalise the artists and artworks for inclusion in both the exhibition and this publication. This involved Venetia Porter from the British Museum; Camilla Edwards from Visiting Arts; Ulrike al-Khamis and the prominent Iraqi artists Rashad Selim and Leila Kawash. With particular focus on the emerging generation, a selection of 34 artists' exhibiting a body of 55 artworks from the UK, USA, Canada, Sweden, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, as well as North Africa, Bahrain, Jordan and Iraq, in a range of media was gradually achieved. Further loans from the British Museum will also be on display.


Strokes of Genius Publication
The book Strokes of Genius...Contemporary Iraqi Art (Saqi Books) is meant to serve as a valuable source of reference for those seeking current information about contemporary Iraqi art. Based on extensive research and many personal interviews, this work introduces the reader to the development of Iraqi art throughout recent decades, before moving on to essays by experts in the field who explore the status and content of works produced by Iraqi artists today. Furthermore, it incorporates a comprehensive selection of biographical notes on Iraqi artists, past and present, worldwide.