88 km in photos
How does one convey the complex reality of people caught up in conflict? As a photographer, Alexandra Rose Howland takes an inventive approach to communicating geopolitical events. In order to convey what she found after moving to Iraq in 2017, Howland began to document the eighty-eight-kilometre road between the relatively quiet Erbil to the frontline in Mosul. Seated atop a Landcruiser, every three seconds she took a picture of the landscape passing by her lens. She digitally stitched the resulting images together into an infinite panorama: from a local market in Erbil where life seems like business as usual, ending at the ruins of the Al Nuri Mosque in West Mosul which was destroyed in 2017 – and where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the Caliphate in July 2014. In 2017, Mosul was recaptured by Iraqi Government forces with allied militias, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and international forces after more than two years of occupation by IS.
Selfies, Snapchat videos and moments of war
The exhibition Leave and Let Us Go in Foam 3h only shows the very end of the panorama: depicting the start of the reconstruction of the historic mosque. This scene forms the surface on which hundreds of photos from the smartphone archives and photo albums are pinned – those were collected from more than fifty Iraqis collected by Alexandra Rose Howland. These people, young and old, were willing to share their digital archives with her, offering an intimate glimpse of their daily lives. The complete collection consists of some 300,000 images, including selfies, Snapchat videos and photos of loved ones, as well as horrific moments of war. Precisely because of this criss-cross, one is confronted with different realities of a country where many are trying to build up as normal a life as possible, whilst dealing with the complexities of foreign interference and multiple militias trying to seize power. The intricate web of narratives proves it is impossible to determine who is on the right lines. Howland's own photographs are also mixed into this whole – no single vision is dominant. As such, Leave and Let Us Go is an intimate and multi-dimensional portrait that returns the narrative power of an often-misunderstood country to its own citizens.
US President Joe Biden announced earlier this year that he would end the "War on Terror" by withdrawing US troops from the Middle East. The exhibition title is an oft-heard statement among Iraqis, deriving from the famous Iraqi song Oh My Heart by Bassam Al-Ali. Leave and Let Us Go expresses the frustrations of the Iraqi people: when someone pretends to be a friend or ally and ends up abandoning them to their fate.