Life + Arts

Exhibit encourages discussion

The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts will host an exhibit today in which the items on display are not tangible pieces of art, but conversations about Iraq – a topic that simply ‘is what it is.’

It Is What It Is: Conversations about Iraq is a traveling art exhibit by British artist Jeremy Deller. The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, Blaffer Gallery, and the UH School of Art have all worked together to bring the groundbreaking exhibit, hosted by Creative Time and The New Museum, to Houston.

Karen Farber, Director of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, said the organization is excited to have the exhibit visit the UH campus.

‘We are thrilled to bring (Deller) to campus to interact with UH students,’ Farber said. ‘The Mitchell Center presents artworks that generate or exemplify collaboration across disciplines.’

Even the name of the exhibition, It Is What It Is, is taken from real life experiences.

Nick Weist, in charge of marketing for Creative Time, said Deller didn’t come up with the name on his own.

‘The phrase is used by soldiers in Iraq,’ Weist said. ‘They use it to describe their feelings about being there during wartime.’

Though it is classified as an exhibit, It Is What it Is cannot be put into a single artistic category.

‘Often our projects defy categorization,’ Farber said. ‘Is this visual art? Performance? Neither? It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq certainly falls into that category.’

The exhibit will feature experts on the Iraqi experience with speakers Jonathan Harvey, a veteran of the Iraqi war, and Esam Pasha, an Iraqi citizen.

Deller created the exhibit to encourage dialog about Iraq in an open, unmediated and casual forum.’

It Is What It Is encourages public discussion of the history, present circumstances and future of Iraq through unscripted, nonpartisan conversations in cities across the country,’ Farber said.

The exhibit will be stationed in front of the Mitchell Center for the Arts.

‘An RV will be parked in front of the Mitchell Center building along Entrance 16,’ Farber said. ‘The project participants will be outside the RV talking with passersby.’

In addition to the speakers, the exhibit will also feature a car destroyed by a bombing on Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad.’ The bombing is especially significant because the street was considered the center of cultural and intellectual life in that city.

The exhibit stops in Houston during a cross-country tour.’ Everywhere it goes It Is What It Is causes a stir.

‘In Washington D.C., it happened in a prominent location on the (National) Mall,’ Farber said. ‘There has been extensive newspaper and radio coverage of the project, in publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune and NPR news.”

Farber said she hopes Deller’s exhibit will help shine light on the war in Iraq.

‘While it may not confront us in our daily lives if we are not members of the military or residents of Iraq, we are still a nation at war,’ Farber said. ‘It Is What It Is will remind us of that reality and will offer us an opportunity to better understand all sides of the conflict in which we are engaged.’

As the American political climate changes, Farber says the exhibit helps meet some of the need for public awareness.’

‘We are in a time of transition,’ Farber said. ‘As citizens living in a democracy, it is up to us to envision our collective future. We hope that this project will engage us all in that process.’

It Is What It Is: Conversations about Iraq will be on display from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Mitchell Center. Deller will also give a free lecture at 7 p.m. at the Glassell School of Art, 5101 Montrose Blvd. For more information on the event, visit

It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq
A traveling exhibit discussing Iraq makes a stop in Houston.

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Building.
Lecture at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 1001 Bissonnet St.
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at Emancipation Park, 3018 Dowling St.
Free admission.

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