After the controversy surrounding the work of a French artist showing torture scenes from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, some Iraqi artists are withdrawing from the Berlin Biennale. The artists Layth Kareem, Raed Mutar and Sajjad Abbas announced on Tuesday that they were withdrawing their participation in the 12th Berlin Biennale, the organizers announced on Thursday. “We respect the artists’ decision to withdraw their work, although we deeply regret it.”
The works by Raed Mutar and Sajjad Abbas have already been placed in other exhibition locations in close consultation with the artists, the statement said. “None of the three works can now be seen in the exhibition.” They are still interested in working through the controversy and the injuries that have arisen. They wanted to invite those involved to talk about it in a public event.
This was preceded by an argument about a work of art installed at the Biennale. The French artist Jean-Jacques Lebel had built a labyrinth of terror in the Rieckhallen of the Museum Hamburger Bahnhof from photos taken by US soldiers of humiliation and torture of Iraqi prisoners. Before entering the separated room, visitors are made aware of the gruesome depictions.
Rijin Sahakian – the lender of a work that has now been withdrawn – had opposed the artwork in an open letter signed by several people. It said, among other things, that the Biennale had used “photos of illegally detained and brutally treated Iraqi bodies” under the US occupation to exhibit the work. These would be used for commercial purposes without the consent of the victims and without the participation of the Iraqi artists participating in the biennial. Their works were installed next to the controversial work without their knowledge.
US troops abused Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. The scandal became known through the first publications in 2004. During the legal workup in the years that followed, there were imprisonment and disciplinary sanctions for numerous US soldiers.