The 2019 Venice Biennale (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The 2019 Venice Biennale was closed today, November 13, due to extreme weather conditions that caused record-high floods and killed two people in the lagoon city. But for more than a week, the Iraq Pavilion at the Venice Biennale has been closed to visitors in a strike against the Iraqi authorities. Ruya Foundation, the Baghdad-based nonprofit foundation that organized the country’s pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale announced the strike on November 5 “in solidarity with the popular youth uprisings that have erupted in Iraq against state corruption and deteriorating economic and living conditions.”

“We condemn the use of violence against peaceful protesting, and the bloodshed that has lead to the death of over 265 protestors so far,” the foundation wrote in a statement. “Peaceful protesting is a basic right, enshrined in Article 38.c of the Iraqi Constitution.”

“We have also decided to close the Fatherland exhibition during this period in solidarity. The Ruya Shop in Baghdad will also be closed,” Ruya’s statement adds.

While the other pavilions, brought to a halt by floods, will reopen on Thursday, the Iraqi pavilion is expected to remain shuttered until the closing date of the biennale on November 24.

Commissioned by Ruya, the exhibition Fatherland at the Iraq pavilion presented a suite of large-scale expressionist paintings by the Iraqi-Kurdish artist Serwan Baran. The works incorporate objects from the uniforms of Iraqi soldiers killed during the second Gulf War, the Iran-Iraq War, and the fight against ISIS. The uniforms were given to the artists by families of fallen Iraqi soldiers. The exhibition was co-curated by Tamara Chalabi and Paolo Colombo.

Since October 1, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis took to the street to protest government corruption and deteriorating living standards. At least 319 protesters and members of the Iraqi security forces have been killed so far in the demonstrations. The protests are believed to be the largest since the fall of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, according to CNN.

“Popular uprisings across history and in this contemporary period are emblematic of the youth,” Ruya’s statement continued. “These are resulting from socio-economic conflict and a need for real change, for greater civil rights against ruling elites that has reached a saturation point in Iraq.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...