New Database Connects Contemporary Iraqi Artists to the Rest of the World

Nearly 400 portfolios of contemporary Iraqi artists are now available for you to explore, courtesy of a new and publicly accessible online database — the first of its kind. The Ruya Artist Database, which launched this week, emerges from several years of extensive efforts by the Ruya Foundation for Contemporary Culture in Iraq, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization founded in 2012 to promote regional culture to a wider, international audience. 

“The chief intention is to create a platform for the Iraqi creative community in the absence of physical spaces and institutions, which naturally allow for creative exchange and exploration,” the Ruya Foundation’s chair and co-founder, Tamara Chalabi, told Hyperallergic. “The art scene in Iraq has been existing in relative cultural isolation from the rest of the world for many decades and for many reasons. 

“This database is one way of transcending the physical restrictions of security, isolation, and the absence of an art market,” she continued. “It is also a way of enabling the creative community to discover each other, and also to connect on an international level, which might allow them to develop their practices in new and experimental ways.” 

Chalabi knows of only one other similar project that showcases Iraqi art, the Modern Art Iraq Archive (MAIA), although she notes that it focuses largely on the country’s modern art heritage while this database highlights contemporary practices. Searchable by name, gender, country of residence, and medium, the database presents brief biographies of the artists and a link to an online gallery of their works hosted on the Ruya Foundation’s Flickr page. 

The information arises from the Foundation’s own research, which included speaking with many of the featured artists through visits, workshops, and various projects. Although the visual arts currently dominate the website, from painting to textiles to digital art, its founders plan to include writers, musicians, filmmakers, and performing artists in the future. 

The site’s creators continue to actively seek out artists while also processing voluntary submissions; Iraqi and Iraqi-Kurdish artists interested in being considered for inclusion in the database may send in portfolios according to posted guidelines. The evolving database aims to become an important resource for curators, researchers, or anyone simply curious about Iraq’s contemporary art landscape. 

by Claire Voon

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