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Artist unknown, Mother goddess, 5000 BCE, stone.

Iraqi Artifacts Recovered from Looters to Be Displayed at Venice Biennale

After a previous announcement of the artists who will exhibit in Iraq’s pavilion at the upcoming Venice Biennale, details regarding the ancient Iraqi artifacts that will be displayed alongside the contemporary works have been released by the Ruya Foundation, whose chair and cofounder Tamara Chalabi is curating the exhibition with Paolo Colombo.

Titled “Archaic,” the exhibition will feature forty artifacts spanning six millennia, from the Neolithic age to the Neo-Babylonian period, that were drawn from the collection of the National Museum of Iraq displayed alongside works by artists Luay Fadhil, Sherko Abbas, Sakar Sleman, Ali Arkady, Sadik Kwaish Alfraji, Nadine Hattom, Jawad Salim, Shaker Hassan Al Said, and Francis Alÿs. Most of the loaned objects have never left the country, except for a few which were recently recovered after the 2003 lootings of the museum.

The artifacts will include cylinder and stamp seals, cuneiform tablets, medical objects, a musical instrument, and figurines of animals, deities, people, and boats, as well as everyday objects such as jugs, sieves, and toys. A number of pieces were returned to the National Museum from the Netherlands via an Interpol directive in 2010. These include a Babylonian stone weight measure in the shape of a dove and a clay figurine depicting what is presumed to be a fertility goddess dating from around 5000 BCE. Highlights also include a distinctive cylinder seal from the Akkadian period that depicts three parallel scenes from the epic of Gilgamesh and a circular clay school text from the Babylonian period that was used to teach writing. The artifacts were selected by Tamara Chalabi, in collaboration with Qais Hussein Rashid, the director of the department of antiquities at the National Museum, his team, and archaeologist Lamia Gailani Werr.

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