Plan (fem.) for Greater Baghdad
April 21-June 2
Opening April 21, 6-9pm
17ESSEX presents with gratitude Plan (fem.) for Greater Baghdad, a solo exhibition of new work by Ala Younis. Opening on Saturday, April 21st (6-9pm), the exhibition will be accompanied by a lecture given by the artist at e-flux (311 East Broadway), titled “The Works Were Limited: Baghdad and Her Architects," on Monday, April 23rd at 7pm.
The Saddam Hussein Gymnasium was designed by Le Corbusier, and metamorphosed through numerous iterations of plans over twenty-five years before it was inaugurated in 1980. Up until then, the commission for the Gymnasium passed through five military coups; six heads of state; four master plans, each with its own town planner; a Development Board that became a Ministry and then a State Commission; a modern starchitect among a constellation of many others with their associated architects, draftsmen, contractors, agents and lawyers; local architects accompanied by similar structures from their own consulting firms, from government departments, and from parallel commissions; more than one local artist/sculptor; eager competitors; and other monuments that simultaneously appeared and disappeared as a result of these same conglomerations.
Heavily based on archives, found material, and the stories of its protagonists; Plan for Greater Baghdad (2015) looks into protecting monuments for posterity, and into performing plans for Baghdad as an expression of power or as a necessity. The new iteration of the project, Plan (fem.) for Greater Baghdad (2018), places the contributions made by female artists, architects and other influential characters within the development of Baghdad and its modern monuments. The work re-rticulates archival material to bring about new narratives. In this case, the reading sees beyond the male dominance of the city’s architecture and politics, as well as the grand narratives.
Of the female characters that are present in this research are Ellen Jawdat, the Baghdad-based, Harvard-trained, American architect whose work in Baghdad served as inspiration for early wave of its local architects; Balkis Shararah, Rifat Chadirji’s wife who carried manuscripts of his works in and of Abu Ghraib prison between 1979 and 1980 allowing him to author his seminal book Al-Ukhaidir and the Crystal Palace while in prison; architect Wijdan Maher who designed and lead prominent architectural projects across Iraqi cities and published Imara, an architecture-focused quarterly; another two architects who were employed at the governmental institutions one of them revived the gymnasium project after it faded following Le Corbusier’s death and the other was informally titled Mrs. Iraq’s Development for the scope of development projects she lead through her job at the Ministry of Transport; artist Nuha al-Radi whose diaries of 1990/91 describe the dynamics in the lives of Baghdad’s people beyond the news coverage; architect Nada Zebouni who in her final year of architectural studies she interned in Le Corbusier’s contractors office in Paris and worked there on the drawings and the model of the gymnasium, and Zaha Hadid whose architectural drawings influenced the imagination of architectural students in the 1990s.
Ala Younis is an artist, trained as an architect in Amman. Research forms a big part of her practice, as does curating, collaboration, film, and book projects. Her work has been exhibited at the Venice, Gwangju, and Istanbul biennials, the New Museum Triennial (New York), and the Home Works Forum (Beirut) among other places. Her projects include Tin Soldiers, Nefertiti, An Index of Tensional and Unintentional Love of Land, Plan for Greater Baghdad, and most recently, Plan (fem.) for Greater Baghdad. Younis curated the first Kuwaiti Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale; and the Museum of Manufactured Response to Absence and its interventions in Algeria, Kuwait, and Ramallah. She is co-founder of the non-profit publishing initiative Kayfa ta.
Image: Nuha's resemblance. From the working files of Plan (fem.) for Greater Baghdad, by Ala Younis, 2018.