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  • Feb 25, 2019

Iraq to Spotlight Serwan Baran at 58th Venice Biennale

SERWAN BARAN will be Iraq’s representative artist at the 58th Venice Biennale. Courtesy Ruya Foundation.

The Ruya Foundation announced on February 22 that Serwan Baran will represent Iraq at the 58th Venice Biennale. Born in Baghdad in 1968, Beirut-based Baran is known for his cathartic, gestural paintings that deconstruct his experiences as a soldier in the Iraq army and artist for the Iraqi government. His exhibition, commissioned by the Foundation, will be titled “Fatherland” and will explore the ways in which patriarchal, nationalist notions of belonging have been used as justification for violence. 

 “Fatherland” will include large-scale and site-specific works, such as The Last Meal, a monumental acrylic painting showing the corpses of soldiers who were killed while eating. A life-size, half-crumbling sculpture of an army general, The Last General, is intended as a tribute to fallen fighters and as a reminder of the brutality of military leaders. Both works feature elements of collage, including from Iraqi military uniforms donated by the families of soldiers killed in the Iran-Iraq War, the second Gulf War, and the war with ISIS. 

Tamara Chalabi, the chair and co-founder of Ruya Foundation, and Paolo Colombo, an art advisor at Istanbul Modern, will co-curate the Iraq Pavilion presentation for the second consecutive time. In her statement about the 2019 exhibition, Chalabi noted: “Baran’s work is fitting artistically, both as a deeply personal testimony of his own experiences and a universal commentary on the condition of mankind.” Colombo added: “Baran’s large-scale works are forceful denunciations of the horrors of war [. . . ] His statement is not restrained, and the scale of his works is in perfect tune with the volume of his proclamation.”

Baran graduated with a degree in fine arts from Baghdad’s Babylon University. He also studied painting under Syrian-German artist Marwan Kassab-Bachi. Baran has exhibited at festivals such as the Cairo Biennale (1999), Kuwait’s Al-Kharafi Biennial (2011), and the Marrakech Biennale (2012), and has held solo exhibitions in cities such as Amman, Marrakech, Tokyo and Damascus, among others. 

“Fatherland” marks the first solo presentation at the Iraq Pavilion, which has been organized by the Ruya Foundation since 2013. The 58th Venice Biennale runs from May 11 to November 24, 2019.

Pamela Wong is the assistant editor for ArtAsiaPacific.

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