The Exhibition

LSE Middle East Centre
Ground Floor, Old Building, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE
Monday 03 April 2023 10:00am to Friday 12 May 2023 8:00pm

Funded and hosted by the London School of Economics (LSE) Middle East Centre, the exhibition reveals a series of themes that emerged from deep mapping and thematic analysis of fifteen interviews with Iraqis from across Iraq. Funded by the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI), for the fieldwork part of the research titled Ruptured domesticity, a series of interviews were conducted, thematically analyzed and visually mapped. The exhibition is associated with a digital archive of the maps which was launched online on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the US-led Invasion of Iraq in March 2023. The exhibition of the maps and a public talk at the LSE Middle East Centre accompanied the project in April and May of 2023.

Four different scales of refuge were revealed across the interviews. The first encapsulates the intimate memories narrated by the interviewees and the material objects and non-material notions of refuge within war and violence they recalled. The second captures the domestic dimension encompassing multiple ruptures to different scales and realms of inhabitation encountered across the years between 2003 and 2020. The third unearths urban negotiations between vertical and horizontal warfare, violence and urbicide puncturing through cities, pushing and pulling their margins in and out of centres of violence. The fourth reveals choice (or lack of it) and available options in people’s mobilities and possibilities of escape while seeking refuge, inflicting a palimpsest displacement performatively. This mobility was mainly internal in the case of Iraqis, yet different forms of internal displacement materialized, from taking refuge in derelict and abandoned spaces and buildings and camps, to movements between neighbourhoods in the same city, to mobility between city and countryside, and lastly to external displacement. All interviewees have agreed to an ethics protocol of sharing their memories of a sense of refuge across Iraq’s recent history, unpacked through the past, the now, and the future, starting with the preparation for and period of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, passing through the 2006-2007 years of sectarian violence and ISIS (also known as Daesh) atrocities, and ending with the 2019 Tishreen Revolution leading up to the start of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Highlighting these momentous events and their associated monumental changes was intentional. Although not all Iraq suffered equally from all these events, they have all certainly impacted the fate of every Iraqi inside Iraq and to some extent those outside it, and changed the face of its map spatially and socially.

Interviewees picked their spatial moments of focus to voice their memories and put forward their stories, reflecting the different experiences of each region of Iraq. Their long uninterrupted quotes appear alongside visual maps to emphasize the significance of these moments on their lives through their own voices. Voices that have been muffled and muted for decades. Each interview is accompanied by a visual map charting scales of intimacies of refuge, ruptures and possibilities towards a negotiated spatiality. These maps chart the spatial unfolding of violence and trauma through memories emphasized by Iraqis from the north to the south of Iraq. These visual narratives consist of deep maps, also known as cognitive maps and counter-maps.  

Maps on the wall of the exhibition are individual cries of resilience. Collectively, they capture moments of violence as it unfolded and tell stories of creative coping with trauma and making of refuge in a palimpsest archive of living spatiality. The maps stretch meanings of the spatiality of the mundane and the everyday as stories are drenched in trauma of past lived, present reality and future imaginaries.