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In 2009 at the height of the Iraq War, Reel Festivals, an Edinburgh based charity launched a programme of Iraqi cultural events. A core component was Creativity vs Destruction, Scotland’s first exhibition of contemporary Iraqi art. The exhibition was the brainchild of me and my friend Mark Herbert. Straight out of university we had boundless optimism and soon we were receiving contributions from some of Iraq’s best know artists. Digital and physical works came in from around the world and me and Mark spent what felt like days in his van couriering canvases from London up to Edinburgh. I think at the end of the install we had worked for 48 hours without sleep.

The venue was a deconsecrated church, its windows boarded up and lighting provided by a theatre rig. The monumental and somewhat sombre setting resonated well with the work, much of it exploring themes of loss, especially the destruction of cultural heritage.  The centrepiece of the exhibition was a series of huge burnt canvases by Hanaa Malallah, which Mark and I hung from the lighting rig so that they floated in the middle of the space, becoming an installation in their own right.

The exhibition was well timed, Iraq was front page news most days, and visitor numbers were high for a show of its type. Just before we closed we were visited by the critic Susan Mansfield who wrote a sensitive and carefully researched review for the Scotsman.

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