News ID: 188190
Published: 0644 GMT February 22, 2017

Iraq's looted treasures to be displayed at Venice Biennale

Iraq's looted treasures to be displayed at Venice Biennale

The National Museum of Iraq is to display 40 ancient artifacts at the Venice Biennale this year, including several that were recently returned after its looting in 2003.

The exhibition will be the first time all the objects have been legally allowed out of the country, the Guardian reported.

The 57th Venice Biennale of Art runs May 13 through November 26.

Ancient clay pots, medical objects, musical instruments and figurines of deities and animals will be among the items on display, some of which date back to 6,100 BC.

It will be the first time since 1988 that permission has been granted for anything from the museum's collection to leave Iraq. The museum reopened in 2015 after being closed for 12 years while the stolen and smuggled objects taken during the invasion of Iraq were recovered.

The display in the National Pavilion of Iraq at the biennale will be in direct response to what co-curator Tamara Chalabi describes as the "cultural genocide' happening at the hands of Daesh across Iraq and Syria.

"It is more important than ever that people outside of Iraq see these objects and understand their cultural significance, at a time when they are being nihilistically destroyed in Palmyra, in Nimrud, in Mosul," said Chalabi, speaking on the second day of an attempt by Iraqi forces to reclaim western Mosul from Daesh.

The Ruya Foundation, which is organizing the exhibition at Venice, had to fight against an 'open reticence' from the Iraqi authorities and people at the museum to let any objects out of the country, Chalabi said.

For Chalabi, a historian, it was important to include a few of the 15,000 objects which were looted from the museum's collection during the fall of Saddam Hussein, a third of which have subsequently been returned.

The exhibition will be titled Archaic, and will also feature new work of eight Iraqi artists. Chalabi said the pavilion offered a rare opportunity to bring together Iraq's ancient and contemporary culture, which is "shrouded in mystery and prejudice for so many people".

She hoped it would finally open up cultural channels in and out of Iraq, and break away from the thinking that the only way to preserve and save the collection was to keep it "hermetically sealed inside the museum".

"There such a dichotomy between the ancient and the current and everything else in the middle gets lost," she added. "So this is trying to connect the two — Iraq as the cradle of civilization, Garden of Eden of ancient times, and then the war, destruction and chaos of today — and create a dialogue between the old and the new."

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