Plan for A Feminist Greater Baghdad

 Ala Younis at 56th Venice Biennale. Photo Isabella Balena. Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia.

Ala Younis at 56th Venice Biennale. Photo Isabella Balena. Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia.

Delfina Foundation and Art Jameel are collaborating to present Plan for Feminist Greater Baghdad, a solo exhibition by Ala Younis held simultaneously in London and Dubai. The exhibition includes a major new installation co-commissioned by the two organisations, Plan (fem.) for Greater Baghdad (2018), that builds on Younis’s 2015 work, Plan for Greater Baghdad, which was included in the Central Exhibition of the 56th Venice Biennale curated by Okwui Enwezor, and which will be shown alongside the new commission in the exhibition.

In the original work, Plan for Greater Baghdad (2015), Younis looked at monuments, (by) architects, (for) governments, and the short state of empowerment they gained as politics shifted in Iraq. The project anchored itself within the history of a gymnasium in Baghdad that was designed by Le Corbusier and named after Saddam Hussein. Heavily based on archives, found material, and the stories of its male protagonists, the project explored issues relating to the protection of monuments for posterity, and the creation of plans for Baghdad as either an expression of power or as a necessity.

 Ala Younis, Plan for Greater Baghdad (2015). Installation view, 56th Venice Biennale. Photo Alessandra Chemollo. Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia.

Ala Younis, Plan for Greater Baghdad (2015). Installation view, 56th Venice Biennale. Photo Alessandra Chemollo. Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia.

In the newly commissioned work, Plan (fem.) for Greater Baghdad (2018), Younis brings to the fore the significant contributions made by female artists, architects and other influential characters to the development of Baghdad and its modern monuments. Typical of Younis’s investigative practice, the work re-articulates archival material to bring about new narratives. In this case, the reading sees beyond the male dominance of the city’s architecture and politics, to reveal the female influence on Baghdad’s history.

Among the main female protagonists that inspired this research are Balkis Sharara, Rifat Chadirji’s wife who in 1979 carried copies of his works into and out of Abu Ghraib allowing him to author three of his seminal books while in the prison; artist Nuha al-Radi whose diaries of 1990/91 describe the dynamics in the lives of Baghdad’s people beyond the news coverage; an unknown young woman who stands out in the festivities of the gymnasium’s 1990 new year concert; Fahrelnissa Zeid who was herself an artist (most recently the subject of a major exhibition at Tate Modern) and the wife of the Iraqi Ambassador in London when Le Corbusier received a telegram confirming the approval of his first design proposal for Baghdad; poet Iman Mersal who paid a solidarity visit to Baghdad under siege in 1993; Zaha Hadid whose architectural drawings influenced the imagination of architectural students in the 1990s; and others.

Through found materials, documents and oral histories, these stories are presented in the exhibition through a timeline punctuated with inkjet prints and drawings alongside digitally sculptured and 3D- printed models of different figures, which mirror the 2015 male edition of the work.

This exhibition marks the first time these two major works are shown together.