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Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Delaware Art Museum Presents Bridge of Hope:
Iraqi/U.S. Art Initiative
WILMINGTON, DE.-The Delaware Art Museum presents Bridge of Hope: iraqi/U.S. Art Initiative, an exhibition featuring approximately two-dozen works, mostly abstract, by nine iraqi and nine American artists, on view March 29 – May 4, 2008. This exhibition is part of the Museum’s new Outlooks Exhibition Series and is guest curated by Rosemary Lane of Delaware , Coordinator of the International Cultural Arts Network (ICAN). Lane chose the American artwork, and the iraqi works were chosen by Lamia Talebani of Baghdad, a founding member of ICAN and an iraqi artist. Most of the iraqi works were brought to US through Jordan by Claudia Lefko of Massachusetts , an ICAN founding member.
ICAN grew out of the 2006 Global Peace Initiative of Women Iraq-US Summit : Creating a Common Dialogue in New York City . This organization has initiated working relationships and collaborations between iraqi and American artists. The purpose of ICAN is to engender hope, transcend barriers, and foster goodwill between our countries.
Exhibitions in this series are created by residents and organizations of our surrounding area, contributing to the Museum’s mission of providing an inclusive and essential community resource.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Iraqi, American art overcomes obstacles
To say that organizing the exhibition was an ordeal -- well, that's as understated as can be. Six months before it premièred in smaller form at the Cab Calloway School of the Arts, six of the participating artists were unreachable. One of them, the show's co-coordinator, had gone completely out of communication as the war escalated.
The reality of life in Iraq can make even an art show seem impossible to manage. But more than most anything else, Rosemary Lane has hope. And, as the guest curator of the aptly named show "Bridge of Hope," at the Delaware Art Museum through May 4, she found a way to bring the unique exhibition to life.
It comprises about two dozen works, most of them abstract, by nine Iraqi and nine American artists. It's part of the museum's Outlooks Exhibition Series, which highlights art by residents and organizations from the region.
In March 2006, Lane was a U.S. delegate to the Global Peace Initiative for Women's "Iraq-U.S. Summit: Creating a Common Future," held at the United Nations Plaza in New York. The 17 participating Iraqi women, who came from a variety of sects and age groups, arrived in armored cars.
For the first time, they were in an environment where they could speak the truth. They talked about their experiences before and during the current war, and their opinions about its progress were mixed.
It was, for Lane, a life-altering conference.
She and four other delegates who attended -- the Americans Ed Agostini and Claudia Lefko and the Iraqis Warda Pasquale and Lamia Jamal Talebani -- wanted to initiate arts projects to foster good will between the two countries. Lane, a Bear resident who in 2005 retired as professor of art at the University of Delaware after more than 30 years, in 2006 helped found the International Cultural Arts Network, which also intends to plan an artist exchange program.
She selected the American works; Talebani chose the Iraqi art. (Three of Talebani's sculptures -- svelte, abstract bronze interpretations of the human form -- are in the show.)
The two-year project largely came together in recent months. It was shown in November and December at Cab Calloway, but the collection grew considerably afterward. Lane and Talebani, communicating via phone and e-mail, pulled together the current exhibition in six weeks.
Although the artists didn't conspire to do so, the pieces are awash in reds, earth tones and muddy browns. Among Iraqis, that has something to do with the availability of pigments. Despite the colors' tendencies to suggest blood and downtrodden lands, the works aren't overtly political.
"We wanted to make sure that isn't what it was," Lane says. "We wanted them to show their best work -- who they are, and how they represent themselves as Iraqis or themselves as Americans, and share that humanity with each other. Common humanity, not a political reaction. Because most bad art comes out of a really quick political reaction.
"What you're sensing here are people who have been in the war, and this is the work they've made as a result of experiencing the war, but it's not about the war. It's about missing their country, missing their family, being displaced."
Displaced. Like Talebani. She's a first cousin of Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq. Soon after the 2006 summit, she virtually disappeared. Her new colleagues couldn't reach her for months. The war had escalated. Maybe Talebani was dead.
Eventually, she had abandoned her Baghdad apartment and the artworks inside, and she arrived in Jordan.
Lane knew none of this. Maybe the show wouldn't happen, she thought. Still she hoped.
She doesn't know why she was on the computer one night at 4 a.m., but that's when Lane opened e-mail from Lefko of the Iraqi Children's Art Exchange.
"I'm in Jordan," Lefko wrote. "I have found Lamia. She's safe and has found all the artists, and they're here in Jordan."
Lane was ecstatic. It seemed the show might come together after all. But Lefko wasn't sure how to collect and ship the art.
"Get all the work," Lane replied. "Get it taken off stretcher bars. Is there a gallery nearby?"
"Yes," came the response, "some of these guys are in this gallery."
"Well, go to the gallery owner, have him pack and wrap the work, and bring it back on the plane."
"But I'm leaving in two days."
"Do it."
What seems in print to have been an exchange short on cordiality really was a collaborative push to escape a gauntlet of roadblocks. Lefko, with Talebani's help, corralled the artists. Their canvases had to be removed from the stretcher bars and rolled for transport on a plane. Some mixed-media and wooden pieces moved into a box.
Lane expected her friend to send the artworks as luggage. Instead, an airplane seat beside Lefko was occupied by the rolled, raw canvases and the box filled with Iraqi art.
Once the works arrived, Lane hired Anna Shutov of Winterthur to stretch the canvases and to restore paintings that had been damaged during their journey.
All of this, and no budget. The young organization can't even afford to order food for the artists' reception Friday, during Wilmington's monthly Art on the Town.
Some people have donated money to help three Iraqi artists who have planned to visit America for 20 days. One artist arrived midweek. Two others were having visa problems.
Three grant applications fell through, but Lane is expecting soon to hear about a fourth. She'd like to send the show on the road, but that would require solid funding. Even shipping the works back to their creators in Jordan would come at a significant price.
Lane notes that nearly all participating artists have graduate degrees or are teaching college art courses. A statement from the artist accompanies each work. The brief passages generally address the artists' inspirations and methods. Violence, as in the art itself, is virtually absent from the texts.
About a month before this latest inception of the show, happenstance put Lefko in Jordan in time to acquire a second wave of works. This time, they were shipped already stretched. Lane looks at the art and can see evidence of the environment in which it was created. The works that were made in Jordan, she says, were better than those that had been made in Iraq. The available tools were superior. So were the artists' living conditions.
"Their lives are more grounded now," Lane says. "They feel more stable. Before, they were walking out of their house not knowing if they would be killed or if their families would be killed."
Somehow, even when in Baghdad, they found ways to make their art. Viewing it in Delaware is considerably safer.
Through May 4. Delaware Art Museum, 2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 12-4 p.m. Sundays. $10, 60 and older $8, college students $5, ages 7-17 $3, 6 and younger free. Sundays free to all. 571-9590 or
International Cultural Arts Network