Rana Ibrahim, Front of House Assistant at the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum travelled to Baghdad, Iraq in June 2018 with an ICOM UK – British Council Travel Grant. This is the report from Rana’s visit.
This was my first visit to Iraq after I left 18 years ago because of the war. The purpose of my visit was to build connections and research for the project Iraqi Women, War and Art. I wanted to develop the early stages and curation in Iraq, tapping into Iraqi womens’ lived experience of war through introductory workshops. Eventually, I would like to develop an online/touring exhibition telling war stories through handmade objects made from recycled materials.
I am originally from Iraq and I have been suffering from the effects of war all my childhood and until now. I wanted to do something about this and show people the impact of war from a female perspective, both during the war and in the aftermath. In a place such as Iraq, and in the hearts and minds of Iraqi female immigrants/refugees, women make objects to help them get through difficult times and as a means to decorate their homes.
During the visit, in addition to my sister Nibal Ibrahim (the first artist) I managed to meet with two Iraqi female artists, Huda A. Nasser and Nada Alrawi. I also went to visit the Institute for Folk Art and Craft where I met the Director, Mr Adnansaddam Saddam, and the Dean, Mr Azmar. I visited the museum of Craft and Folk Arts twice, where they allowed me to film during a tour of the museums so I could capture people talking about their experiences. You can watch the video on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElJB0FYFjnI&feature=youtu.be
I managed to visit the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, where I had an informal meeting with the deputy head Sadiq Khazial Ibraheem. I was able to visit their craft workshop and interview another two artists, Amani Abdulridha and Duaa, and meet more women who were training there, developing their careers and earning money to survive in Iraq despite the widespread corruption.
The visit presented lots of challenges, such as the very hot weather and no electricity. As a woman travelling in Baghdad by myself sometimes it was tricky to meet people for the first time to talk about my project. I did not manage to meet all of the potential partners due to the University holidays and lack of time due to the short working timescales over the summer.
I was concerned that I didn’t have an official letter to show. I was successful in getting people’s contact details through websites, other museums, or other resources from the UK. My project was met with great interest by the potential partners I met, however, I need to write a project document to seek funding and take my project to the next stage.
I have gained great knowledge by going to Iraq after being away for 18 years. For example, in particular, how the government and non-government institutions work in terms of their time and work management, staff and the productive side too. These pieces of knowledge will impact on my project going forward when I start writing my next step progress to apply for more funding. The impact on the UK organisations or other museums will be more about understanding how other international institutes’ works for potential partnership. Meeting and knowing people personally and directly was the most useful thing, and this will help me to get to the next step with more confidence.
I created a YouTube Channel called Iraqi Women Art and War: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1cPSn29BuQwjCAt6i1mdaA/featured
The next step is to get in touch with my mentor for advice on how to secure match-funding that can take my project to the next stage. I will use the information from this visit to support my applications.
The greatest impact on me as a result of the visit to Iraq (a war zone) was creating a potential network and building connections with Iraqi colleagues. To anyone else going on international visits, I recommend you always go and meet people in person and never rely only on emails or a phone call. Face-to-face meetings make a huge impact on any project that you want to start and build.
The visit allowed me to better understand whether or not my project could work, and I believe it can.
“Rana’s visit to Iraq has highlighted to us the importance of building partnerships with international organisations to support new and interesting projects exploring the impact of conflict for all.”
Ursula Corcoran, Director, Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum
“Rana has made significant inroads into building partnerships with artists and institutions in Iraqi and this will be of benefit in building new investment streams to realise her artistic ambition.”
Sarah Pickthall, mentor