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Conversations About Iraq

Contemporary Art often poses more questions than it answers.  Jeremy Deller’s current work, It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq at MCA Chicago, is more about answering questions.

When you first walk in to the space, you see a Persian rug with a white sofa and chairs right in the middle of the room.  Behind is a floor to ceiling banner with the exhibition title and a close translation in Arabic.  Beyond the living room set, is a knarled, rusted out remains of a car, destroyed in the bombing of an Iraqi book market.

The twisted metal looks like a sculpture, but is unchanged by the artist’s hand.   In American media, snarled metal replaces images of bloodied bodies, Deller believes. And this powerful piece is a representation of that destruction.  On the walls adjacent to the rusty monument or photographs of the book market after it was destroyed by the car bomb.  Powerful images that add heft to the already massive piece in front of you.

On the opposite wall are simple outlines of the United States and Iraq, but in each are names of cities from the other country.  Deller was inspired by the idea of Twin Towns in Europe where Allied cities paired up with former rival cities to promote cultural connections.  The American cities are secondary, Wichita, Oakland and Akron.   This effort allows for viewers to compare cities that they are not familiar with at home with towns they have only heard by name, creating a level commonality between them.

But the most important part of the exhibition, and what Deller calls the actually art is the white sofa and chairs placed around a table with books and maps on Iraq. Sitting in one of the chairs is a guest expert.  These experts all have personal experiences in Iraq and are there to answer questions and clear up any misperceptions of life in this war-torn country.

Through the 4-weeks of the exhibition, there will be Iraqi born citizens, a veterinarian, a journalist, a Christian Peacekeeper, an American Officer and many others willing to share their thoughts of and experiences in Iraq.

Esam Pasha is one of those experts.  He has been with the exhibition since the beginning and has traveled with the objects through the United States, inviting not only the museum going public, but also the general public in town squares to come up and look at the pieces and talk about what is going on.  Pasha has found that most people have an opinion on the topic and want to talk about it.  And this exercise allows him to remember and strengthen his own cultural heritage.

The exhibition Jeremy Deller:It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq continues through November 15, 2009 at MCA Chicago, 220 East Chicago Ave.

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