In 2014 I was in a boat crossing the Tigris river from Syria into Iraq, when an American journalist remarked on the awe of all the things the river can and has seen. It travels through Mosul (At the time, occupied by ISIS), and then Baghdad and Basra. Multiple cities, conflicts and histories all laid out along the same thread, linking them all together.
Gilgamesh, the ancient king of Mesopotamia, crossed waters by boat in search of answers to life. Unlike Gilgamesh, I wasn’t too sure what I was doing there.
I like to tell myself that the river has a memory. The river watches over the on-going civilisations, seeing the signs, symbols and patterns of life fade away over time. Re-emerge many lifetimes later, though their former meanings may be forgotten. Like the erosion and break up of rocks into pebbles in the river bed, memories fade and collect. I returned many times to the river, my subjects an odd collection of events, non-events, scenes and subjects, found near or on the banks that this water has cut.
I have memories of my childhood, being driven to school everyday and hearing the news on the radio of the Iraq war. Growing up with the war as a backdrop brought up difficult and confusing questions about the role of the UK in the world. Are we a force for good? Why are we really there? Was Iraq really a danger to us? Was it right?
Almost ten years later, events unfold across the region that bring down numerous governments, and throw others into total war. Those same uneasy questions and feelings returned. My work with Syrian people over the years has taken several form, as I pursue different ways to try and understand the complex life of a person who has lost too much.
Arabia Opus is a set of three separate, but connected projects, set in the Arab world and Europe. Titled “Bildungsroman”, “Annals” and “Passage”. The projects follow the Tigris river through Iraq, explore the Syrian crisis, and then wander out into the Arabian landscape. Each project looks at different subjects and universal themes, and the overall series seems to be my response to issues with globalism, power, and impressions made upon me during my teenage years, particularly with the Iraq war and War On Terror.