Ala Younis, Plan for Greater Baghdad (2015)

This project was activated by a set of 35mm slides taken by architect Rifat Chadirji in 1982 of a Gymnasium in Baghdad that was designed by Le Corbusier and named after Saddam Hussein. The project looks at monuments, (by) architects, (for) governments, and the shifts and tensions between ideals and ideologies.

The Saddam Hussein Gymnasium metamorphosed through numerous iterations of plans over twenty-five years before it was inaugurated in 1980. Up until then, the commission for the Gymnasium passed through five military coups; six heads of state; four master plans, each with its own town planner; a Development Board that became a Ministry and then a State Commission; a modern starchitect among a constellation of many others with their associated architects, draftsmen, contractors, agents and lawyers; local architects accompanied by similar structures from their own consulting firms, from government departments, and from parallel commissions; more than one local artist/sculptor; eager competitors; and other monuments that simultaneously appeared and disappeared as a result of these same conglomerations.

Heavily based on archives, found material, and the stories of its protagonists; Plan for Greater Baghdad looks into protecting monuments for posterity, and into performing plans for Baghdad as an expression of power or as a necessity. Missing from the representations and citations contained in established archives, the images that document the performances of design, power, and designing power are pieced together from fragments of other images and from records of gestures retrieved from representations and narratives by local artists.

Produced as a set of motions and signals enacted by characters frozen in the denouements of historical time, the three-dimensional depictions pertaining to the men who appear in the Plan for Greater Baghdad, and the interventions into existing documents culled from various archives, produce a dual-layered timeline that pits developments in the Gymnasium story against those in Baghdad.

Elements in order of appearance in this project: Le Corbusier. Concrete structures. Master plans. Iraq’s negotiated oil revenues. Other projects by modern architects for Baghdad and the region. The archives of others and Iraqi archives. The interests and fates of Heads of States. Deputies to Heads of States. Rifat Chadirji, his Iraq Consult, and his peers. Statues and monuments. The Stadium versus the Gymnasium. Jawad Salim. The Tigris River and its meanderings through Baghdad. Palm groves, helicopters, informants, doubles and film productions.

Premiered at:
All the World’s Futures
56th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia
Curated by Okwui Enwezor
Arsenale (corderie #8)
9 May - 22 November 2015

Project by Ala Younis, 2015
Produced with support from The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC) and Sharjah Art Foundation. Additional support: Mimar Models, Barakat Travel.
Part of research developed during Bellagio Creative Arts Fellowship (2013) and an Ashkal Alwan residency (2011).

> Installation shots
> Timeline [English] [Italian]

> Men of Bronze, Homes of Concrete, poem published as part of Supercommunity, e-flux journal 56th Venice Biennale on June 3rd 2015—Day 21.
> Ala Younis: Plan for Greater Baghdad The artist about her project at the 56th Venice Biennale 2015 Nafas Magazine - Universes in Universe June 2015 [English] [German] [Arabic]
> AFAC Grantees Stories, Plan for Greater Baghdad
> Article in Al-Hayat Newspaper [Arabic]

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