What kind of a year has 2016 been for you?
Heartening, clarifying, confusing. I worked on some gorgeous projects with a bunch of organisations like Artes Mundi and Glynn Vivian, and those projects meant meeting incredible people. It’s easy to put the words ‘incredible’ and ‘people’ next to each other, but I leave projects really feeling that. The grassroots women’s film club I’ve been running for 12 years for minority communities across Cardiff went wild, jumping from five to 18 events, with some of the coolest screenings we’ve done to date.
The 2015 Venice Iraq Pavilion show I was part of went to Ghent (S.M.A.K.) for three months and I witnessed something very beautiful about how they did things at that institution. I also started an ACW Creative Wales Award which has given me time out to do various things, trial new stuff, think new stuff, invite other people to help me answer a stack of questions I’ve been asking myself for a while about practice, community, neoliberalism, progress, art making, people.
What has changed for the better and what, if anything, has changed for the worse?
More clarity – I’ve got clearer this year. The culmination of things I’ve been thinking about for a long time, I’ve started pulling together. I’ve been wanting to work in a different way, which partly means more collaborating, so 2016 has been about setting in motion new ways. That’s also encompassed getting clearer about the relationship to my practice and its different manifestations – exhibiting, socially engaged projects, activism, politics, community work. I suppose it’s been a year of refreshing how the configuration of these different and overlapping kinds of focus function in my work.
What do you wish hadn’t happened this year?
Western-led democracies plumbing new levels of hypocrisy at home and abroad.
What do you wish had happened this year, but didn’t?
Blair being successfully tried and convicted for war crimes. I was meant to be going to Palestine for a month-long residency with Al Hoash Gallery in East Jerusalem in September, but had to cancel because of health stuff. So this year has also been about becoming aware (and not just intellectually) that my body really is a sacred entity, it can’t be driven like a little machine. Our bodies must be revered and placed centrally within the equation.
What would you characterise as your major achievement this year and why?
It wasn’t my achievement alone, but helping to coordinate the ‘Cardiff Without Culture?’ campaign at the start of the year was something many of us felt proud of and energised by. In five swift weeks the Cardiff arts scene created a campaign that challenged the council’s £700,000 proposed cut to the city’s arts budget. We mounted a mass petition, a 1,000-strong culture march, and worked with the anti-austerity movement, trade unions, students and city residents to turn things around. Many thought it wasn’t worth our trouble but we kept faith. Obviously, there’s no end to that battle as the austerity regime continues apace, but the action I think cemented something in people’s minds – that when they come together with purpose and unity they can have an effect.
Is there anything you’d like to have done this year but haven’t?
Where do I start. Yes, everything. But also life is a sweetness and it was enough.
What would make 2017 a better year than 2016?
The Iraq Pavilion exhibition is going to northern Iraq – Erbil – in January 2017. I grew up in Mosul, and haven’t been back to Iraq since 1980. I know returning, not to my home town which is impossible, but to Kurdish Iraq will be very significant. Going back is the start of something that has long been in my heart, so somehow starting to make those personal and cultural connections with this other part of my life is precious for me, and on that level alone will make 2017 if not better, then radically different.
I’d love for us to internalise in the UK the notion that culture is our birthright and ought to be protected, supported, honoured, in and of itself, not because it’s delivering a social aim, or plugging the gaps in our woeful grinding down of public services.
A better 2017 would involve the unleashing of unadulterated compassion as the default setting to everything we experience, see, read and hear. I shall start with myself as I find it so hard.
1. Rabab Ghazoul at the Pavilion of Iraq in Venice for the 2015 Biennale. Photo: Mathias Depardon/Ruya Foundation
2. Rabab Ghazoul, It’s a long way back (Chilcot/Part 1), Invisible Beauty Iraq Pavilion show, installation view, S.M.A.K., Ghent, May to September 2016. Photo: Rabab Ghazoul
3. Cardiff Without Culture march, Saturday 6 February 2016. Photo: Dan Green Photography
4. Rabab Ghazoul, Artes Mundi, Ideas People Places, ACW-funded regeneration programme. Photo: Dan Green Photography