Proudly representing Iraq at the fifty-eighth Venice Biennale of 2019, Serwan Baran is a multidisciplinary artist who has consistently and effortlessly represented his struggles as an Iraqi-Kurdish citizen that lived through over forty years of a war-torn region. His time in the service is most prevalent to the present work, which was an important highlight of the Iraqi pavilion and depicts a bird’s-eye view of soldiers eating their final meal prior to being killed by the opposition’s forces. The tremendous acrylic painting, which is hauntingly blue in tone, makes us feel as if we will shortly be witnessing a tragic murder from a distance. The angle Baran executed for this painting allows the figures to seem distorted and more condensed, achieving the desired effect of worm-like beings that crawl around the composition. Baran is the first solo artist to represent Iraq at the pavilion, and he is rightly to do so.
His works shine a bright light on the devastating history of Iraq, one that has seen the likes of the Iran-Iraq War, the second Gulf War, and the current turbulent situation with extremist groups such as ISIS. At Venice this year, Baran made a bold move in showcasing only in two works of one painting and one sculpture that depicted an army general dead in a boat, referencing the refugees crisis. Serwan worked on a series depicting these people in the army, questioning our trust in the authority. Here in the hopes of trusting their authorities as they prepare to go to an unknown place, we are ultimately forced to succumbing to a shattered dream, that of a dead general with no driver to steer them to their ultimate direction. As opposed to this work at Venice, the present work depicts a happier, short-lived moment; the soldiers are alive; they are sitting together, convivial and eating together in the hopes that they will liberate Iraq, sadly with the final realization that this would not resolve.
Born in Baghdad in 1968, Baran graduated from the Babel University with an education in Fine Arts. He has been exhibiting in Modern Iraqi Art exhibitions since the early 90s, consistently growing a reputation for himself among his people. Since then, he has exhibited in many solo shows around the Gulf and the Levant. He is a member of the Iraqi Fine Art Association as well as the National Art Association, positioning himself in a reputable position within the growing art scene of his home.