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This is What Our Dependency On Oil Looks Like

An art exhibit in London explores the human cost of our energy consumption habits.

At the P21 Art Gallery in central London, oil drums are the current medium of choice. The barrels, which have been painted, punctured, and defaced, comprise an exhibition put together by Iraqi and British artists to examine the relationship between oil and human life. Called Crudification, the exhibit presents the world’s dependency on oil and the human suffering that has resulted from it in unequivocal, brutal terms.

“We don’t think about the lives that we’re ruining when we consume oil,” said London-based Sarah Marusek, who helped organize the show. “So this really was the artists’ attempt to look at the human cost of our insatiable quest for oil.”


Soodad Al-Naib, Rusting Wealth, 2014

Most of the artists used oil barrels as their primary medium, juxtaposing them with sculptures of the human body. Baghdad-born artist Soodad Al-Naib contributed Rusting Wealth, featuring two rusted metal sculptures of the human body crushed beneath the weight of a rusting, gold-plated oil drum. Al-Naib and her sister, Suhad, survived the infamous 2003 Baghdad bombing of the United Nations headquarters. She was taken to the U.K. for treatment and has lived there ever since. While the violence of Al-Naib’s personal experience in Iraq is clearly evoked in her work as an artist, there are explicit connections made between the perpetuation of war and the unquenchable thirst for oil throughout Crudification.

“The Iraqis have known war for most of their life if they’re in their 30s, 40s, 50s,” says Marusek.

Another Iraqi artist, Bassim Mehdi, attempts to depict the ways in which the Iraq wars have affected Iraqi childhood. His installation includes a black oil barrel and a pink balloon that floats above it. Children’s footprints are painted on the floor. It’s called No Dreams for the Assassinated Childhood.

“Childhood is the greatest victim when nations misuse their powers,” writes Mehdi, who also founded the Iraqi Fine Arts Association in Britain that organized the exhibit. “Our children are forced to live through the rubbles of oil wars. Indeed, generations are living under the feet of the oil industry.”

British artists were also invited to contribute to the exhibit. Sculptor Richard Janes created an installation of an oil barrel sliced in half. Three sculpted human figures are crouched between the two halves.

Richard Janes, Untitled, 2014

“The three figures are bound by the barrel sections supporting it but trapped, representing three worlds: first, second, and third,” Janes says in his artist statement. “While this classification and definition of developmental and political division is contentious, in my work it is meant to be inclusive. All the world is reliant, beggared, and trapped by oil.”

Marusek says the exhibit forces people to question the modern world’s unhealthy reliance on oil and the ways in which it has historically been acquired, through war, invasion, and political domination.

“We have to remind ourselves not of the sectarian narratives that are dominant in international media but what is [the violence in Iraq] really about? Where did it really start?” says Marusek. “And it’s about oil and power.”

The exhibit runs at the P21 Gallery until November 2nd.

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