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True Stories of Baghdad

by Monika Anselment

This project consists of two elements: a series of photographs and five narratives. Work on the project began in 1993 and ended in 2003.

The project is an investigation of different media and their role in constructing the 'truth.' The two elements of the project – photograph and narrative – simultaneously supplement and contradict each other. In this way, they enter into a dialogue.

The photographs are still images taken from international television news of everyday life in the city of Baghdad during the economic embargo. In many cases, for example, that of Iraq, television images are the only alternative we have for getting a 'picture' of the situation. They are presented to us as reality.

The photographs in the project are clearly identifiable as television images. In most cases, we see the logos of the television broadcasters and the running stock prices along the bottom of the image. A black stripe sometimes runs through the image as well. You have to look very closely if you want to find the 'truth'.

The narratives in the project also claim to be true. They are stories that the two authors were told by friends and acquaintances of the stories' protagonists. In contrast to the television images, which are presented in the garb of 'objective' reality, the stories recall the grotesque narrative subplots of A Thousand and One Nights.

In this exhibition, the television images are presented in the approximate size of a television screen (50X65 cm). Simultaneously, we hear the stories on a CD, which, borrowing from the tradition of Arabic fairy tales, are read in both Arabic and the native language of the exhibition location

Over the course of this ten-year project, I have also produced an artists' book. In its various editions, the book contains between 48 and 54 original photographs and four to five narratives. The form of the book itself is also a reflection on the issues addressed in the project: the golden lettering on the red velvet book cover contrasts with the book's binder format, which recalls the sober objectivity of new reports. Accommodating the different writing directions of Arabic and Latin languages, the book is organised in a circular manner. This means the book can viewed from front to back or from back to front. The contents of the book are organised in such a way that regardless of which direction we choose to approach the book, we first encounter the outskirts of Baghdad, before moving to images of the city and urban life, and then, in the middle of the book, to portraits. In this way, there are always two versions of the same book.

There are currently four editions of the book. The first was the German-Arabic edition, with four narratives and 48 photos. There is also a Spanish-Arabic edition, a Catalan-Arabic edition and a second German-Arabic edition with five narratives and 54 photos. All of the editions contain some of the same photographs, but each edition also includes photographs that are unique to it. Thus it is always the same book with different photographs. Yet despite the different photographs, all the editions focus on the same issues – they highlight the arbitrariness of the images shown on television.

Translated by Tom Lampert