Critics’ Picks

View of “Every Building in Baghdad: The Rifat Chadirji Archives at the Arab Image Foundation,” 2016.

Chicago

“Every Building in Baghdad: The Rifat Chadirji Archives at the Arab Image Foundation”

Graham Foundation
4 W. Burton Pl. Madlener House
September 15 - December 31

As Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Okwui Enwezor, and many others have observed, the photographic archive inevitably exceeds its function as repository of exhaustive records; the viewer adds mnemonic and affective experience in encountering this informational space. Focusing on Rifat Chadirji, a key figure in Iraq’s postwar modernization, “Every Building in Baghdad” accentuates this archival excess to devastating effect.

Chadirji copiously photographed his nearly one hundred realized architectural projects—factories, universities, and office buildings, as well as other sites in and around Baghdad and northern Iraq between the 1950s and 1980s. Many of his images are black-and-white snapshots, some taken in haste (passersby frequently mistook him for a government spy). Sensing that the times in which he lived were precarious, Chadirji aimed to preserve memory of these structures ahead of their possible damage or destruction. As a result, images of demolition prior to construction grimly anticipate the future obliteration of such buildings amid countless wars.

The title’s vexing reference to Ed Ruscha positions the exhibition, curated by Mark Wasiuta, Adam Bandler, and Florencia Alvarez, somewhere between academic research and contemporary art. Unframed pages from the archive featuring two to six photographs apiece are mounted on black metal armatures that recall both Minimalist sculptures and military barricades. These armatures thrust this fragmented archive up to eye level in an accusatory manner, rendering the exhibition’s context—and country—unavoidable. Far from innocuous shards of the past, we confront our own complicity in what has happened to these places, stripping bare the explosive politics of the archive.