Over the past decade, the art world has observed surging interest in contemporary art from the Middle East. Gritty, bold and scintillatingly inventive, the works shown in the Iraq Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale would move even the most cynical critic. Welcome to Iraq simulates a salon environment where visitors are encouraged to sit, read and learn about Iraqi culture while enjoying a cup of tea. Books and comics courtesy of the Iraq National Library and Archive are also available in the pavilion. Following studio visits across Iraq, curator Jonathan Watkins selected a number of photographers, cartoonists, sculptors, painters and video artists to emphasize the depth and breadth of artistic practice in modern day Iraq.

Highlights include the line drawings of Abdul Raheem Yassir, who is ubiquitously considered to be one of the best satirical cartoonists in Iraq. His pieces possess a sly charm: the feigned innocence of his style allows him to tackle difficult issues, especially with regard to Iraq’s inexperienced police force. Another face to watch is that of Bassim Al-Shaker, one of the youngest artists represented in the exhibition. Al-Shaker pays homage to tradition with his romantic paintings of the southern marshlands in Iraq. His work starkly contrasts these idyllic scenes against the atrocities of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Ali Samiaa’s film The Love of Butterflies straddles the tensions between marital infidelity and family commitment, in the process driving straight into the core of socio-cultural changes in Iraq. Says Watkins of all the artists represented in Welcome to Iraq: “What really impressed me is the way they make do, get by and improvise… visitors to our pavilion in Venice will be impressed by how much necessity has been a mother of invention.”

Welcome to Iraq is commissioned by the Ruya Foundation, and will run until 24 November.

Pavilion of Iraq, Ca’ Dandolo, Grand Canal, San Polo 2879, Venice

All images courtesy of the Ruya Foundation.