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Every Building in Baghdad

Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery
Mar 31, 2016 - May 14, 2016

Every Building in Baghdad: The Rifat Chadirji Archives at the Arab Image Foundation examines the work of Iraqi architect Rifat Chadirji through the collection of his original photographs and building documents held at the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut. With the work of his architectural office Iraq Consult, and in his other roles, Chadirji became a pivotal cultural figure in Baghdad during the period of its postwar modernization from the 1950s through the 1970s. As an architect, planning consultant and director of buildings for several government agencies, Chadirji was central to the organization and consolidation of the image of the postwar city and helped foster the emergence of the factories, colleges, monopoly headquarters, communication structures and other new building types that appear in Baghdad following Iraq’s 1958 revolution.

Despite the long historical continuity his regionally inflected modernism evoked, Chadirji was all too aware of the transformative effects of Iraq’s growing oil economy. His work as a photographer was informed by his sense of Iraq’s political and cultural precariousness, while it foresaw greater disruption ahead. Over a span of more than twenty years, Chadirji recorded the street life, social practices and spaces that he believed were threatened by development and the forces driving Iraq’s postwar evolution. Over the same period he meticulously photographed his own architectural work in an attempt to produce documents that could survive the damage, alteration and potential destruction of his buildings.

The threat that lurks within the Chadirji archives reverberates with the current instability in Iraq and Syria and the continuing specter of building destruction and cultural violence. The texture of precarity within Chadirji’s photographs also underscores the institutional project of the Arab Image Foundation and its attempt to assemble, secure and preserve the photographic history of the Arab World. In this sense, Chadirji’s photographs and building documents exhibit at least three identities: they are an informational system describing every building within his architectural oeuvre; they are a device to preserve the image of Iraq’s experience of modernization; and they are the charged signifiers of collateral damage and historical and cultural vulnerability that marks the archives of the Arab Image Foundation.