Until the River Winds Ninety Degrees West – 57th Venice Biennale Iraq Pavilion

‘Until the River Winds Ninety Degrees West’, Iraq Pavilion

57th Venice Biennale

Info: Group exhbition with Francis Alÿs comprising 7 vitrines in the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, Venice.

Site-specific installation in 1 vitrine; dimensions 140 x 165 cm; clay, cloth, sand, water, rocks, archival pigment print photo collage, photogravure.

Text: The commission for the 57th Venice Biennale Iraq Pavilion was for a vitrine work under the larger theme of water and in dialog with artefacts from the Iraq museum from the perspective of my own unique heritage.

I was born into an ethno-religious group known as the Mandaeans. Their practice revolves around running bodies of water, namely, rivers and they settled by the Tigris river near the marshes in Southern Iraq. They date back to pre-Christian and pre-Islamic times, thought to have migrated from Palestine. The Mandaeans speak a dialect of eastern Aramaic called Mandaic.

The Mandaean culture is shrouded in secrecy, even within the community, as a means of protection against centuries of persecution.

However, many early 20th century scholars concerned themselves with ‘The Mandaean Question’ and through that work documented and translated holy manuscripts.

Until the River Winds Ninety Degrees West takes as a starting point the translation of a manuscript by the German scholar, Kurt Rudolph, ‘The Book of Rivers’. The Book of Rivers details a geography that covers the Mesopotamian region and beyond, existing somewhere between heaven and earth.

In gathering personal memories from my own family and community, I began to weave a landscape that drew from collective memory, and the reality of the Mandaean people. Now largely displaced, numbers dwindling, and facing extinction, their migration characterised by a disappearance from their landscape.

As my father recounted the river in his home village winding ninety degrees west, I searched for this landscape in modern day atlases, only to find it in The Book of Rivers.

The installation features 6 images from Hattom’s family album, images from Iraq in the 40s-60s, where I have digitally removed the people and supplemented them with descriptions of what is happening in the image. The texts are based on family memories. Collaged onto landscape images from Australia.

The clay objects and cloth are sculptural sketches of objects typically used in Mandaean rituals and ceremonies such as baptism and marriage.

The installation explores migration, identity, water as a passage and the flawed nature of facts and fiction encapsulated in memory.

See this video on the making of ‘Archaic’.
For more details on ‘Until the River Winds Ninety Degrees West’ and the theme of water see Themes of Archaic #3: Water.