“Connecting is essentially what boats do”

“Connecting is essentially what boats do”

Our work grew from Rashad Salim’s art project, the Ark Re-imagined, and its core question: “What would the Ark of the Flood look like if it was based on Mesopotamian cultural heritage?”

Rashad returned to Iraq in 2013 on a boat expedition down the Tigris from Turkey to Iraq’s southern marshlands. He was shocked at how deserted the waterways were.

The rivers had always been the basis of cultural and economic life. Traditional boats were still widely used until the mid-20th century, even the 1970s in the marshes. But after four decades of conflict and instability they had almost disappeared.

At the end of that journey he experienced a vision: an ancient Mesopotamian Ark made up of many ordinary boats and watercraft gathered together in a pattern of unity. At its core was a cluster of seven Guffa coracles in the form of the Seba’ayoun (‘seven eyes’), a traditional amulet of blessing.

He set out to create that Ark. His aim was not to prove whether it existed in the past, but to build an Ark of rescue for the present and future. A vessel to gather the knowledge of a particular time and place: in this case, Mesopotamia in prehistory, and the vernacular culture that emerged there.

This culture and its boat forms and craft methods endured until the 20th century. They outlasted the rise and fall of several civilisations, but are now on the brink of extinction.

The form of the Ark Re-imagined is a gathering; a movement of bringing together. “Connecting,” as Rashad says, “is essentially what boats do”. It’s what our project does too.

This week we’ll explore how the theme of connectivity has shaped every stage of the project – and highlight a few of the connections made between people, places, and knowledge that our work has brought together.

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